The cover letter

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In the absence of a 'live' contact person, the cover letter has the difficult job to 'sell' the survey, that is, to create rapport with the respondents and to convince them about the importance of the survey and of their role in contributing to it. In addition to this public relations function, the cover letter also needs to provide certain specific information and directions. To write a letter that meets all these requirements is not easy, particularly in view of the fact that it needs to be short at the same time. If it is more than a page it is likely to be tossed aside and then find its way into the trashcan unread. So writing this letter is something we do not want to rush.

Cover letters usually address the following points:

• The organization that is sponsoring or conducting the study.

• What the survey is about and why this is important or socially useful.

• Why the recipient's opinion is important and how he/she was selected.

• Assurance that all responses will be kept confidential.

• How to return the completed questionnaire.

• The date by which the completed questionnaire should be returned.

• What to do if questions arise (e.g., a contact name and telephone number).

• Possible reward for participation.

• Signature, preferably by a person of recognized stature.

• Attached stamped addressed envelope.

Gillham (2000) warns us that even though the questionnaire is sent out together with the cover letter, the two often get separated. Therefore, it is important that the questionnaire itself be self-contained and also include vital pieces of information such as the return address and the date of return (which, in my experience, should be around 10 days after receiving the questionnaire).

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