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Open Access Research article

Towards socially inclusive research: An evaluation of telephone questionnaire administration in a multilingual population

Elizabeth Dormandy*, Katrina Brown, Erin P Reid, Theresa M Marteau and SHIFT research team

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology (at Guy's), Health Psychology Section Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2008, 8:2  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-8-2

Published: 31 January 2008



Missing data may bias the results of clinical trials and other studies. This study describes the response rate, questionnaire responses and financial costs associated with offering participants from a multilingual population the option to complete questionnaires over the telephone.


Design: Before and after study of two methods of questionnaire completion. Participants and Setting: Seven hundred and sixty five pregnant women from 25 general practices in two UK inner city Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) taking part in a cluster randomised controlled trial of offering antenatal sickle cell and thalassaemia screening in primary care. Two hundred and four participants did not speak English. Sixty one women were offered postal questionnaire completion only and 714 women were offered a choice of telephone or postal questionnaire completion.

Outcome measures: (i) Proportion of completed questionnaires, (ii) attitude and knowledge responses obtained from a questionnaire assessing informed choice.


The response rate from women offered postal completion was 26% compared with 67% for women offered a choice of telephone or postal completion (41% difference 95% CI Diff 30 to 52). For non-English speakers offered a choice of completion methods the response rate was 56% compared with 71% for English speakers (95% CI Diff 7 to 23). No difference was found for knowledge by completion method, but telephone completion was associated with more positive attitude classifications than postal completion (87 vs 96%, 95% CI diff 0.006 to 15). Compared with postal administration the additional costs associated with telephone administration were £3.90 per questionnaire for English speakers and £71.60 per questionnaire for non English speakers.


Studies requiring data to be collected by questionnaire may obtain higher response rates from both English and non-English speakers when a choice of telephone or postal administration (and where necessary, an interpreter)is offered compared to offering postal administration only. This approach will, however, incur additional research costs and uncertainty remains about the equivalence of responses obtained from the two methods.