What is the cost of paper?

The true cost of paper is a very intriguing research topic. It can have several hidden layers.

Depending on the type of research, the geographical spread of research locations, the size and weight of the questionnaires, the processes involved in logistics and reverse logistics, this cost can be far higher than the specific activity of printing paper based questionnaires.

We have gathered information in-house and also done some secondary research to identify the typical cost break ups involved when a paper based questionnaire approach is followed for data collection in research projects.

We have not included the other additional costs incurred due to errors in data entry and other productivity aspects.

The below provided break up is given for a typical project with a budget of INR. 15-18 lakhs, involving approximately 50,000 – 70,000 respondents. For estimation simplicity, the incidence costs or cost of identifying the right respondents for the study has been considered to be low or independent in the calculations done below.

Interestingly, with higher incidence costs, the cost per questionnaire also increases.

This can be typical of an enumeration study involving a small district or can also represent a sample study with a high incidence rate (or low incidence costs).

Research Life cycle component

% of the Total Project Costs


Instrumentation, Design and Questionnaire Printing 10 – 15% For large sample oriented and Enumeration Projects the costs can be 20%
Transportation and Logistics of Questionnaires to satellite locations 2-3%  
Storage Costs or Opportunity Costs 3-5% Assumed a Project duration of 1 year, the average space of 200 sft @ rent of Rs/ 20 per sft
Data Entry , Clean up and Consolidation 10% This can be up to 20% of the total costs for large sample studies or enumeration studies
Total 40%  

We have seen several cases where this cost has actually been significantly higher. For example in several of the enumeration researches conducted, this figure can go as high as 80% of the overall costs if the questionnaires are bulky, with more data points to enter and digitize.

Let us review the typical annual costs attributed to Paper based Questionnaires and traditional models of research in organizations that are heavily invested in welfare and research.

We have evaluated that the out of the typical costs of a sample or enumeration research involving a district, 35-40% of such costs are incurred in the design, administration and supply chain involving paper based questionnaires. Let us consider this as one unit of estimation.


If such an organization conducts even one enumeration research full time in a year, this can be an equivalent of 15 Units of size and scale illustrated in the above example. This is equivalent to 1 – 1.2 crores of Research budget allocations per year.

AreaTypical MeasuresDescription
Missed, damaged questionnaires and Manual Entry ErrorsMissed and Manual Entry errors can cost 2-5% of additional effort to ensure that project stays on trackQuality of outcome also suffers greatly due to gaps or erroneous data entry
Opportunity Cost of new Projects A typical Data Entry and coordination team needed for a typical project of size 15-18 lakhs can be of 4-6 Operators/Analysts. Such teams could be freed up for other value adding activities and projects
Delayed Timelines due to logistical and Entry delays Typically 60-75% of research projects do not finish on time. Besides, the standard time taken from the point of data entry digitization through final report is roughly about 50% of the time of the overall projects.  

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