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Report on Cognitive Pretesting of the 2010 Census Program for Evaluations and Experiments Panels Mailing Package: Deadline Messages

Elizabeth Nichols, Nathan Jurgenson, and Dawn Norris

KEY WORDS: deadline messages, 2010 Census mailing materials, response motivation, return envelope design


This report describes the methods used for and provides the results from pretesting the five deadline messages proposed for the 2010 Census Program for Evaluations and Experiments (CPEX) panels mailing materials. Two rounds of cognitive interviews are presented. We found some comprehension problems with the deadline message tested that attempts to motivate a timely response by appealing to the respondent’s presumed desire to save taxpayer money. We did not find any consistent comprehension problems with any of the other deadline messages tested. In both rounds of testing, respondents had strong reactions to the message informing them that an interviewer would come to their door and conduct an interview if the form was not received by April 5. Most respondents stated a preference for not having an interviewer come to their door and conduct an interview. The message using the word “deadline” with the date of April 5th was seen as a strong message, but generally, respondents had a more favorable reaction to that message than they did to the control message that said to complete and mail back the form today. For people who work or who get their mail late in the day, following that instruction literally is not possible. The fact that it cannot be done, makes the message meaningless, and possibly ignorable. The message, which uses both a date, April 5, and the word “please,” was mentioned as being a polite but not particularly motivating message when compared to the other deadline messages. For 2010, we recommend modifying or eliminating the deadline message attempting to motivate response based on saving taxpayer money. Additionally, this report presents results of respondents using the form insertion instructions on the return envelope. If the respondent follows the Census Bureau instructions and folds and correctly places the form into the return envelope, the Census Bureau can check-in the questionnaire using automation. We tested two different return envelopes using two slightly different designs of the instructions. During the lab test, neither design seemed to “catch the eye” of all respondents so that they would read the form insertion instructions before attempting to put the form into the envelope for mailing. As we are nearing the start of the 2010 Census, we do not have any short-term recommendations for these instructions. Rather, for 2020, we recommend rethinking how we design the materials so that we are not dependent on respondents inserting the form into the envelope in a particular manner for a successful automated check-in.

CITATION: Nichols, Elizabeth, Nathan Jurgenson, and Dawn Norris. (2009). Report on Cognitive Pretesting of the 2010 Census Program for Evaluations and Experiments Panels Mailing Package: Deadline Messages. Statistical Research Division Study Series (Survey Methodology #2009-14). U.S. Census Bureau. Available online at <>.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Published online: October 15, 2009
Last revised: September 30, 2009

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010