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You Have Been Randomly Selected

A Life Dedicated to Turning Research Findings into Practical Applications

Don A. Dillman


One of the world’s most recognized survey methodologists, Don A. Dillman has witnessed the power of random selection—both in the field of social sciences and in his own life. Growing up on a farm, being infected with polio, and facing unusual early career circumstances taught him to embrace change, and eventually led to his pivotal work on the Washington State University campus and with the United States Census Bureau.

“Dillman’s story is interesting, his life rich and full, and his journey growing from humble beginnings to the top of his profession is book-worthy.”—Bob Wodnik, author of Back on Track and Captured Honor

Social Science Methodology / Memoir

Illustrations / maps / index / 6″ x 9″ / 320 pages




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Some scholars label the sample survey—the idea that small, randomly selected, well-designed samples can provide accurate estimates of large population attributes—as the most important social sciences invention of the 20th century. One of the world’s most recognized survey methodologists is Don A. Dillman. His findings raised the standards of evidence in the field and changed how researchers conduct thousands of essential surveys throughout the world—a United States Census Bureau director once described the organization’s revamped decennial questionnaire as “Dillmanized.” In You Have Been Randomly Selected, Dillman conveys the excitement he felt getting up in the morning with a new concept that would lead to months of experiments, one after another, trying to solve many unknowns. He found working with people interested in using those ideas to carry out their work even more satisfying.

Random selection also played a large role in Dillman’s own life, teaching him to embrace, rather than reject, change. An early bout with polio kept him indoors instead of outside on his family’s Iowa farm. Relationships he enjoyed as a child in rural communities later shaped his theoretical approach to survey participation. Exposure to Iowa State University Research Extension agents prompted an interest in practical research. Key experiences in college and graduate school piqued thoughts about how he could contribute to the world. A student strike a few months after he started as a Washington State University assistant professor brought classroom instruction to a halt and led to his formation of the institution’s Social & Economic Sciences Research Center and future work with the U.S. Census Bureau. Together, these unexpected events and circumstances destined him to become an agronomist, a sociologist, and ultimately, a world-renowned survey methodologist. You Have Been Randomly Selected is his story.

About the Author

A Regents Professor of Sociology at Washington State University, Don A. Dillman’s influence on the day-to-day design of data collection protocols and data collection measurement devices is fundamental. He spent much of his nearly six-decade career addressing whether the rate of participation in surveys could be increased. He also sought research designs that improve the quality of collected information, not just in a single instance, but across a wide variety of situations. He has shared his research in almost three hundred articles and numerous books. He has been honored by multiple professional associations, and is one of very few academics to receive the Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Federal Statistics.


“All readers of this memoir will get an insider’s views on the key highlights of Don’s career. The careful reader can watch a researcher’s mind become more and more insightful and, thereby, more impactful.”—Robert M. Groves, Former Director of the United States Census Bureau (from the Foreword)

“Dillman’s work on the November 2020 ballot issue was impressive, and added greatly to my appreciation for proper formatting and visualization…throughout the book, I loved his comments about how his research could relate to his farm experiences.”—Lloyd A. Bettis, Retired Chairman / CEO, National Bureau of Property Administration

“Dillman’s story is interesting, his life rich and full, and his journey growing from humble beginnings to the top of his profession is book-worthy.”—Bob Wodnik, author of Back on Track and Captured Honor

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