Quick and Easy Surveys with Google Docs

by Helen Bradley

Harness the power of Google's online small business software to create custom surveys for any purpose. Helen Bradley shows you how.

Working at Home

One of the things I love most about Google Docs small business software is its Forms feature. You can use to create surveys to collect feedback from your customers or Web visitors. You can email your survey to participants or add it to your blog or website, and you can view and analyze the responses at any time.

Select a Question Type; small business software
To create a form, type the question to ask and select a Question Type, such as Text, shown here.
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Because the survey is based on a Google Spreadsheet, which is an online service that you access via a web browser, it can do things other desktop based applications can't. And best of all, it's free. Read on, and I'll show you how it's done.

How to Make a Google Docs Survey

First, sign up and log in to Google Docs. Google Docs is a small business software suite that combines a word processor, spreadsheet and presentations package. Click to create a new spreadsheet. Type a name for the worksheet by clicking on Unsaved spreadsheet, type a name and click OK. To create the survey, choose Tools > Form > Create a Form.

When the new browser window opens, you will see that the heading of the form is the name you gave your spreadsheet. To change it type over it, and then click in the box underneath. Next, type a message to your survey recipients telling them why you are asking these questions and soliciting their help.

The first question in the survey is the next box below. Right now it's set to be answered by typing something into a box -- it is a text question -- but you can change this. Start by typing the question you want to ask in the Question Title box. If the question needs explanation, type something in the Help Text box otherwise leave it empty. From the Question Type dropdown list choose the type of question to ask.

choose a grid format question; small business software
A grid format question lets you obtain a lot of information in a very small space.
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Choose the Right Survey Question Type

You have a choice of question types that you can ask in your survey, and the type you use will depend on how the question is best answered. Use the Text option for short answers that can't be predicted -- such as a person's name or email address. Use Paragraph Text for a longer answer; this is often used when you want someone to explain something to you that requires more than a few words.

Use Multiple Choice to provide a set of suggested answers from which the recipient may select only one answer. Use Checkboxes when you want the person to be able to select one or more answers, and use Choose From a List to offer a dropdown list of items to choose from.

The Checkboxes and Multiple Choice question types both offer the option of an Other category, which allows the person completing the form to choose Other, and then type their answer into a box. You can choose whether to allow this type of answer or not as you are designing your survey.

The Scale and Grid type of questions let the people rate items on a scale. The Scale type is best used for a single question where the rating is a simple 1-5 rating such as Poor to Excellent or Not Satisfied to Satisfied. The Grid type is more flexible, and it lets you add choices such as Not Applicable or Do Not Know to the scale. It also lets you manage a lot of questions that share the same scale all at once.

Complete the Question Options

question format options; small business software
A multiple choice question (top) can have only one answer whereas checkboxes (bottom) allow for multiple answers.
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If the question type you've chosen requires you to provide answers for the recipient to select, you will be given space to type each answer you are offering. Click Other if you want to allow people to select Other as an option and to type the answer of their choosing into a box.

For the Scale question, you select the number of choices -- such as 0-5 or 1-6 -- and the labels that appear to the left and right of the scale. These labels indicate what the smallest and largest values represent, and you should provide context so people know whether, for example, 5 translates as good or bad on your scale.

The Grid question type works well for a series of questions that all use the same ranking. The numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in the question-editing area are the column headings for the grid so they may read, for example: N/A, Poor, Acceptable, Satisfactory, Excellent. The Row labels are the items the recipient is ranking. For example, a restaurant seeking feedback about the quality of the food might offer these options: Temperature, Appearance, Quantity, Taste and so on.

Final Survey Touches

When your questions are complete, click on the Theme button, choose a theme that suits your business type, and click Apply.

When your customers click to submit the form, they'll see a default confirmation message. To customize the message, choose More Actions > Edit Confirmation. You can edit this message to make it more personal, if desired.

If you want participants to see the survey results after they have completed the survey, select the Publish Response Summary checkbox; in most cases you will leave this option unchecked.

Distributing the Survey

question format options; small business software
Results from your survey are written directly into a spreadsheet, and you can view them any time.
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You have two ways to distribute the survey; you can email it, or you can publish it to your website or blog. To email it, click the Email Form button and enter the email addresses being sure to separate each with a comma. Alternately you can select the intended recipients from your Contact List. Disable the Include form in the email option, as not all email clients will render the form correctly. With this option disabled, recipients will get a link they can use to open the survey in their browser, which is the preferred option.

If you want to make the survey available from your blog or website, choose More Actions > Embed to get the code you need to embed the form in your website.

Take Your Survey Live

Check your form by clicking the link at the foot of the page to preview it. Save the form, close the dialog and close your spreadsheet.

Over time as recipients complete the form, you can see the results by opening the spreadsheet. Each column represents one of the questions in the survey form, and each row will contain one recipient's answers.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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This article was originally published on Tuesday May 31st 2011
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