Using the internet to survey small towns and communities: Limitations and possibilities in the early 21st century

Jolene D. Smyth, Don A. Dillman, Leah Melani Christian, Allison C. O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Researchers who are interested in small towns and rural communities in the United States often find that they need to conduct their own sample surveys because many large national surveys, such as the American Community Survey, do not collect enough representative responses to make precise estimates. In collecting their own survey data, researchers face a number of challenges, such as sampling and coverage limitations. This article summarizes those challenges and tests mail and Internet methodologies for collecting data in small towns and rural communities using the U.S. Postal Service's Delivery Sequence File as a sample frame. Findings indicate that the Delivery Sequence File can be used to sample households in rural locations by sending them invitations via postal mail to respond to either paper-and-pencil or Internet surveys. Although the mail methodology is quite successful, the results for the Internet suggest that Web surveys alone exclude potentially important segments of the population of small towns and rural communities. However, Web surveys supplemented with postal questionnaires produce results quite similar to those of mail-only surveys, representing a possible cost savings for researchers who have access to Web survey capabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1423-1448
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Address-based sampling
  • Internet survey
  • Mail survey
  • Rural communities
  • Small towns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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