OMR-readable booklets make smoking research possible

Specially designed 16-page questionnaires produced by Aldridge-based Kendata Print Services are playing a key role in research currently under way at the University of Birmingham to investigate the effectiveness of a new method of giving up smoking. Designed to be read automatically by an optical mark reader (OMR), the questionnaire booklets are the primary source of data for the project.

The Smoking Attitudes Study has been undertaken by the Department of Public Health & Epidemiology at the University of Birmingham in order to provide a rigorous assessment of the TTM (transtheoretical model) psychological intervention, which in the USA has achieved impressive smoking cessation rates of over 25%.

Volunteers taking part in the Birmingham study are given a self-help manual and are asked to complete the questionnaire at various points over a 12-month period, providing information about current smoking habits and attitudes, health status, health beliefs and demographic details. Shortly after each questionnaire has been returned to the university, the volunteer receives a personalised expert-system letter giving advice on the best strategies to adopt according to the stage that the individual has reached.

Based on randomised control trials with a sample size of about 2500, the study generates a huge amount of information, all of which has to be entered into the department's Access database. According to research associate Carl Griffin, manual data entry would not have been feasible for this task: We sometimes have over 200 questionnaires to deal with each day, and there is no way we could have managed that via the keyboard. Also, some of the pages in the questionnaires are used to generate the expert-system letters, and it is vital that these are issued without delay.

As the department already had an optical mark reader, it made sense to use this technology to collect the data automatically. All that was needed was a well designed questionnaire. Recognising that specialist skills were required, the university called in Kendata Print Services, which has many years' experience in the design and printing of OMR forms.

Following initial discussions with the department about the content of the questionnaires and the various design possibilities, Kendata came up with the final 16-page booklet design and subsequently printed some 30,000 copies.

To enable the university to track the progress of individuals, each questionnaire was overprinted by Kendata with a unique questionnaire number, a GP practice number, time code, patient code number, and the patient's name and address which allowed the questionnaires to be mailed out in labour-saving window envelopes.

When the questionnaires are returned, the perforated edge is simply removed from the booklet and the 16 pages are scanned by the OMR, which converts the pencil marks on the page into a data stream for entry into the Access database.

Kendata Print Services input to the Smoking Attitudes Study has been substantial, concluded Griffin. Careful attention to detail in the design of the questionnaire ensured that we could achieve what we set out to do.

29th September 2000 - Ref. KE140/2