The survey research field is constantly evolving and any researcher interested in growth and keeping abreast with the trends in the reach field would need to have a voracious thirst for knowledge and keep abreast with useful trends in the industry.

According to data from a global S&E publishing outfit Scopus, the rate of publications has exceeded the 4% annual average since 2008, and new publications have risen from 1.8 million articles to 2.6 million articles. 

Based on these figures, it would be tasking for researchers to level up because of the amount of work being released in their areas of interest if they need to be more adequately equipped with the appropriate information.To this end, researchers need to be familiar with credible in the research field to equip themselves with the right information.

This includes the discovery of new research areas and future research opportunities that may arise.

Like the Boy Scout motto  “Be Prepared,” researchers need to know and identify current trends in their field. By doing so, they will recognize and identify gaps in their survey design methodology. one principle is key, the how behind each survey research effort. 

the importance of effective survey design

Brief overview of the importance of effective survey design

Effective survey design is a sure way of deriving accurate and valuable data. This is because a well-curated survey, is a combination of the survey questions, the way they are arranged, the responses, and the method of administration. This is where the Dillman Tailored design methodology comes into play. This method was discovered and developed by Dr Don Dillman and has proven to be effective in eliminating survey fatigue, fostering quality data, and providing a wholesome survey experience for respondents.

In this guide, we will explore in detail the Dillman Tailored design method, its origin, the key steps, pros and cons, and lots more

Let’s dive in quickly.

Understanding the Dillman Tailored Design Method

Background and Origin of the Dillman Tailored Design Method

The Dillman Tailored Design Method originated from Washington State University in the 1970’s. It was founded by Dr Don Dillman and he was alarmed by the high rate of non-responsiveness to surveys. This led him to seek to understand why and proffer a solution that would fix it. This solution was the birthing of the Dillman-tailored design method. 


Key principles and objectives of the method

The key principle behind this method is the survey experience of the respondents. He believed that if surveys were created to not just gain information but also appeal to the audience who will be receiving feedback would eliminate survey fatigue and respondents would be more motivated to respond. So rather than a one-size-fits-all approach for surveys, each survey was designed based on the scope of the study it was focused on. This reduced the cost and accentuated the benefits of the survey for administrators and respondents alike and ultimately boosted survey response rates.

Understanding the Dillman Tailored Design Method

Highlight the method’s focus on increasing response rates and data quality

The Dillman method invariably increases the quality of data collected as an offshoot of its approach. This is because a motivated and engaged audience is attentive to survey questions and is more likely to read to understand the questions and to provide well-thought answers rather than just rushing to finish a survey without giving it any thought. Hence the Dillman method is set on 2 vital components response rates and high-quality data. Response rates are a common concern for survey researchers, as low response rates can introduce bias and diminish the reliability of results. The Dillman Tailored Design Method is designed to mitigate these issues by employing strategies that encourage participation and improve the quality of data collected.

Curious about combining quantitative and qualitative data? Explore the power of mixed methods research and gain a holistic understanding of complex topics.

Key Steps of the Dillman Tailored Design Method

Step 1: Pre-survey planning

Developing a comprehensive survey plan: The first step in any survey design is curating a survey plan and the Dillman method tackles this into cognizance by planning the entire survey process this involves defining or establishing the essence of the survey, followed by understanding or knowing what target population would be most suited for the survey to be effective. The Dillman concept is simply focused on putting a round peg in a round hole for a snug fit.


Identifying the target population and sample: The Dillman method is set up in such a way that you must define your target persona, in terms of who they are, their interests, and the location or platforms where they can be found. This way the sample of respondents selected would reflect the goal and objective of the research. This way there is no mismatch between audience and research goals

Developing a comprehensive survey plan: this focuses on the financial aspects, manpower planning, logistics, risk mitigation, and communication strategy that would be employed when administering and setting up the survey.

Key principles and objectives of the method

Step 2: Questionnaire construction

1. Designing clear and concise survey questions

In this case, double barrel questions are avoided as well and a question with any hint of ambiguity that could promote confusion or misunderstanding is avoided. Hence the questions should be direct and straight to the point. Respondents shouldn’t have to read a question twice or need to use a dictionary to decipher what you are trying to say. If not you’ll end up with inaccurate responses, spurred by asking the right questions the wrong way. In essence, your question be clear and free of jargon and ambitious words.

2. Proper sequencing and formatting of questions

This refers to the popular saying, not to put the cart before the horse. This implies that the order and flow of the questions can influence the way the target audience responds. Remember the goal of your survey is not to evolve quantitative reasoning, but sou ensure the questions flow logically and seamlessly. same way with the alphabet as it was taught in kindergarten.This way anyone can follow irrespective of their cognitive ability.

3. Utilizing appropriate response formats

There is a wide array of question formats, and knowing which format is suited to the survey and the audiences who will be responding is worthy of careful consideration. So whether you use Stapel scales, Likert scales, multiple choice questions, etc. Just make that it is suitable to the objectives of the research and tailored to the audience’s ability as well. The Diilman method ensures you use the most suitable format based on the goal of your research.

Ever wondered what those ambiguous picture tests psychologists give are all about? Unravel the mystery of Thematic Apperception Tests (TATs)!

Step 3: Survey implementation

1. Choosing the most suitable survey delivery mode

Here the Dillman method is concerned with using the right or appropriate method of delivery or administration based on the audience and goals of the research study. Is it online or a traditional face-to-face approach, the method guides you use is the most appropriate that would deliver the best result.


2. Optimizing survey invitations and reminders

The Dillman method employs the use of guidelines and software that would help you optimize communication in teams by inviting participants and keeping them aware of due dates via timely reminders.


3. Ensuring accessibility and user-friendliness of the survey

What is the essence of a survey if it is a high-hanging fruit? So easy accessibility for the respondents and the UI/UX design of the survey platform are all curated to communicate easily to the respondents with the Dillman method.


Step 4: Tracking and monitoring

Monitoring survey progress and response rates: The Dillman method involves continuous tracking and monitoring of the data collected as the response rates come in rather than waiting till all the responses are collated before detecting and addressing issues that may arise on data quality and accuracy.This way a standard of excellence is achieved at each step of the survey process with this method.

method’s focus on increasing response rates and data quality

Identifying and addressing potential issues or biases:

The Dillman method also gives room for flexibility in its design. So researchers are encouraged to make adjustments to their plan or strategy as they go. This way survey fatigue or non-responsive bias can be nipped in the bud as soon as they notice its development in the survey responses.This way data integrity is preserved. 


Utilizing follow-up strategies for non-respondents:

Here researchers re-tasked with not leaving any soldier behind with regards to their respondents. So consistent follow-up and adaption of varying techniques to draw respondents who have fallen away are applied to encourage full participation. 


Step 5: Data analysis and reporting

1. Importance of accurate data entry and cleaning: 

Data entry accuracy and cleaning are one of the strong points of the Dillman method. So errors that would have occurred with incorrect data inputs, duplication, mislabeling, and the like would mess up the algorithm, and ultimately the analysis and results are mitigated via data cleaning, which involves eliminating duplicate entries, addressing structural errors, filtering unwanted outliers, filling in missing data and lastly validating the dat using question and answer checks/balance.


2. Analyzing survey results using appropriate statistical techniques

Researchers are tasked with paying attention to the appropriate statistical techniques that would be most suited to interpret the data result. This way they can derive meaningful insights from the data collected. The first step to selecting the right statical approach would be to first your sampling approach, the definition of your hypothesis, null and alternative, this would be followed by benchmarking, and lastly, the decision to either go with inferential or descriptive analysis. These steps would help you arrive at the most appropriate technique to analyze your results.


3. Presenting findings in a clear and meaningful manner

Organize your thoughts as well as your data and organize them clearly and logically with a progressive flow, the same way you designed and arranged the survey question for your respondents. Remember that not every one of the stakeholders who will read your final output has a degree in research methodology, so avoid technical terms and simplify your presentation, in a way that anyone who uses your output to drive the appropriate action.

Key Steps of the Dillman Tailored Design Method

Benefits and Limitations of the Dillman Tailored Design Method


1. Increased response rates and data quality

The design of the Dillman method aims to increase the likelihood of survey engagement and participation, data accuracy, and enhance the overall survey experience for respondents. Hence the carefully structured steps of this method boat response rate and improve the quality of the representative results.


2. Enhanced survey participant engagement

The method is big on survey experience, which results in a simple and engaging survey design that encourages willing participation.

3. Improved reliability and validity of survey findings

The key principle upon which this method is built enhances the credibility of the survey results.


1. Time and resource-intensive process

The steps required to implement the Dillman methodology are time-consuming and require painstaking attention, which may not be easy to adopt for all fresh studies.

2. Potential challenges in implementing all method steps

The difficulty in applying the requisite steps and elements in this process can be cumbersome when dealing with a bulky and diverse sample size.

 Critiques and Alternative Approaches

Discussing criticisms of the Dillman Tailored Design Method

Critics argue that DTDM may not be suitable for all survey research contexts due to its resource demands and potential for over-complication.

Highlighting alternative survey research methods

While DTDM is effective, alternative survey methods, like web surveys and mixed-mode surveys, offer researchers different tools and strategies to achieve their research objectives.



In conclusion, the Dillman Tailored Design Method offers a comprehensive approach to survey research that can significantly improve response rates and data quality. By following its structured steps and principles, researchers can adapt to the ever-changing landscape of survey research and continue to gather valuable insights from their target populations.

The Dillman Tailored Design Method has made significant contributions to the field of survey research by emphasizing personalized communication, clarity, and engagement to improve response rates and data quality.

Effective survey design is the keystone of any successful survey research project. It ensures that the data collected is accurate, meaningful, and relevant to the study’s objectives. Inaccurate or poorly designed surveys can lead to biased results and wasted resources. Hence if you aim to obtain reliable and meaningful survey data, DTDM is your best bet as it offers a structured and systematic approach that is well worth considering.

As the landscape of survey research continues to evolve, the Dillman Tailored Design Method remains valuable in achieving high-quality survey results. The effectiveness of a survey is directly related to its design. Poorly constructed surveys can lead to unreliable data, while well-designed surveys yield high-quality results. The art of survey design involves a delicate balance of asking the right questions in the right way to elicit meaningful responses.



  • Angela Kayode-Sanni
  • on 10 min read


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