To understand the thinking behind respondents’ answers, researchers occasionally use open-ended questions. Getting a quality response to open-ended questions can be challenging but attending to the visual design of the question and using a motivational statement in the question can increase item response and data quality. To understand the use of open-ended questions in surveys further, we designed an experiment testing the effect of an importance statement (present/absent) and box size (large/small) on item response rate and response quality in a mixed-mode (web and mail modes) survey. Data for the study came from a survey of Florida Cooperative Extension Service (FCES) clients. The results showed that item response was improved with the importance prompt, irrespective of box size. The combination of importance statement and larger answer box also resulted in more words. Web responses produced more words than those on paper and words counts were significantly improved with an importance prompt for web responses. Overall, the combination of importance prompt, larger box size and web mode was most important in producing the best item response rate and response quality in our mixed-mode survey.

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