Evaluating Tablet Computers as a Survey Tool in Rural Communities

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Although tablet computers offer advantages in data collection over traditional paper-and-pencil methods, little research has examined whether the 2 formats yield similar responses, especially with underserved populations. We compared the 2 survey formats and tested whether participants’ responses to common health questionnaires or perceptions of usability differed by survey format. We also tested whether we could replicate established paper-and-pencil findings via tablet computer.


We recruited a sample of low-income community members living in the rural southern United States. Participants were 170 residents (black = 49%; white = 36%; other races and missing data = 15%) drawn from 2 counties meeting Florida's state statutory definition of rural with 100 persons or fewer per square mile. We randomly assigned participants to complete scales (Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Inventory and Regulatory Focus Questionnaire) along with survey format usability ratings via paper-and-pencil or tablet computer. All participants rated a series of previously validated posters using a tablet computer. Finally, participants completed comparisons of the survey formats and reported survey format preferences.


Participants preferred using the tablet computer and showed no significant differences between formats in mean responses, scale reliabilities, or in participants’ usability ratings.


Overall, participants reported similar scales responses and usability ratings between formats. However, participants reported both preferring and enjoying responding via tablet computer more. Collectively, these findings are among the first data to show that tablet computers represent a suitable substitute among an underrepresented rural sample for paper-and-pencil methodology in survey research.

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