Dr. Randy Garner, a professor in the College of Criminal Justice, tested the theory on faculty and graduate students to find effective ways to get responses for completing research surveys. He sent the survey with no notes, with a note written on a cover sheet, with a blank Post-it note and with a handwritten message on a Post-it note. The handwritten Post-it note elicited the most responses.
“A more personalized Post-it appeal increased returns when the survey was long and time consuming but was no more effective than a non-personalized Post-it when the survey was easy to complete,” Dr. Garner found in a study published in Social Science Research Network. “Results suggest that the Post-it leads the request to be interpreted as a solicitation for a personal favor, facilitating a normative compliance response. “
Garner tested his theory using four different studies. First, he sent out a survey on campus climate to 150 faculty members. The survey was distributed equally among faculty, with some receiving no note, some receiving a handwritten note on the cover page, and some receiving the identical message written on Post-it note. Dr. Garner found those with the handwritten Post-it note were more likely to respond.
The second experiment targeted 150 graduate students with a similar five page survey on campus climate, with an equal distribution of those who received no note, a blank Post-it note, and a handwritten Post-it note. Students who received packages with handwritten Post-it notes returned significantly more surveys.
The third study of 100 faculty members from two major urban universities provided a survey on campus climate, using no note, a handwritten note on the cover page and a handwritten note on a Post-it. The research also solicited comments, and as a follow-up, a letter was sent two weeks later asking how to make the process more efficient and productive. Dr. Garner found the use of a handwritten Post-it note did boost the rate and speed of returns as well as the number of additional comments on the initial survey.
Finally, in a fourth experiment, 180 graduates were asked to respond to one of two surveys on campus life, campus climate and instructional issues – a short five page questionnaire and a 24 page document with open-ended responses. Each survey included the three scenarios used in the earlier student experiment: no note, a Post-it note, or a handwritten Post-it note. Some students received the short survey, while others received the longer version, with both including a handwritten Post-it note. The survey was followed up by a phone call to students, which asked them for factors that contributed to their decision to answer the survey. None mentioned the Post-it note. Following their response, the caller asked about specific factors that led to their participation, including the Post-it note.
The students receiving the short survey were more likely to return the questionnaire than those who received the longer survey. For the short form, the Post-it note generally did not enhance participation in the survey, whereas with the longer survey, students were more likely to respond if a personalized Post-it note was attached. In the follow-up interview, few students said they initially noticed the Post-it note, but when prompted, there was greater recall about the presence of the handwritten note. However, only 12 percent of the 37 student reached said the Post-it note was a factor in returning the survey.
“The present findings suggest that the use of something as seemingly insignificant as a Post-it can indeed possess the potential for eliciting a sticky influence,” Dr. Garner said.