How to Build an Online Survey with Google Docs

Sure, you can build some simple online surveys, but if you want to do something really sophisticated, you need to know how to program, right? Wrong. Google Docs makes it easy to build some very elegant online surveys. Keep reading to learn how to create an online survey using this popular and versatile web-based application.

Online surveys are useful on the Internet because they provide opportunities for users to share their views and be counted. Aside from that, those who analyze surveys can get insights from the opinions expressed on the survey. 

The interactive surveys available online often give results to viewers showing how many of those surveyed answered a particular way. This may not be entirely scientific, but it satisfies curiosity.  

You can see surveys almost everywhere on big and useful websites. Surveys can help users make decisions. A survey of top movies, for example, can help you decide whether or not to watch a particular movie. A survey that covers area restaurants can help you decide whether to try that new Mexican place.

It seems, however, that you can only see these types of website features on bigger sites. You can not see this too often in blogs; currently Blogger Beta has some polls, but they are not as extensive as the ones you can see at the big sites.

This leads us to wonder how we can create an online survey and still be able to analyze useful data. Of course you can create surveys using web site scripting such as PHP and ASP, but these languages are not friendly to most online bloggers who are not so technically inclined.

{mospagebreak title=Why and how to use Google Docs}

This is where Google Docs prove to be very useful. With Google Docs, you can create “Forms” which will be the basis of your online survey. Honestly, you really do not need programming experience at all. All you need is the following:

  • A fully working Google account (you can’t use Google Docs without a Google account). 
  • A prepared list of questions and choices. This can be created during your brainstorming sessions with your team mates. If you are doing some kind of marketing study, for example, you can then write down those questions in an Excel spreadsheet or MS Word to finalize.

Simple, isn’t it? You can put your survey online without going into computer programming.

You might ask how you can benefit by putting up an online survey using Google Docs. Here is a list of benefits:

Familiarity. People feel comfortable using Google services, so if they see you are using Google Docs to power your online survey, they will trust it and use it without too many privacy concerns. 

Linkbait. A survey can act as a “link bait.” If you provide very useful information and/or controversial information to the public for free (for example, what people think about the possibility of a US and Korean war), they may like it so much that they link to your page! Also, if someone submits your survey to a social bookmarking site, it could spark a lot of interest and make your website very popular.

Popularity and Authority. If you provide useful information through surveys, people will follow your site and visit often to read what you’ve published. This will make your website not only popular, but build your credibility as an an authority in your selected niche.

Flexibility. Google Docs-powered surveys are very flexible to use. You can create surveys that asked multiple choice questions, offer check boxes, request that survey takers choose from a list, use scale (very useful in product surveys), and even accept plain text.

Academic tests. If you are a teacher or a trainer in a corporate environment, with Internet connections in a local area network, you can even use Google Docs to launch paperless quizzes. This helps the environment and makes your job easy and efficient.

{mospagebreak title=Creating your survey}

Once you have clearly formulated your questions and some possible choices for your users, it’s time to log in to Google Docs using your account. In the Google Docs dashboard, find “New”and then click the drop down arrow. You should see “Form.” After clicking on it, this is an example of what you should see:

The following are the most important functions that you should learn in the EDITING MODE (the process of adding your questions and choices):

Theme-Plain -> When you click on this one, Google docs will show different themes or background for your survey. Select the one that matches your web page background. As of June 2009, Google Docs forms had around 70 themes.

[FIELD: Untitled Form] -> Fill this field with the title of your form.

Question Title -> Type your questions here.

Question Type -> This is very important. In this field, you can select whether you will use multiple choice or other options for that question’s format.

[checkbox] Make this as a required question: Many types of surveys feature questions that participants MUST answer in order to complete the form. So if you check this one, every user will need to answer this question, or the form will not be submitted successfully to Google Docs for processing. This is very useful when you are creating an online quiz and you want your students to answer ALL of the questions. 

Trash box icon: Click on this icon if you do not like the question you’ve created or if you’ve made a mistake with it. 

Help text -> If you need to provide a specific hint or instruction for that particular question, then use this. Please note that use of this is optional; it is not absolutely necessary to create surveys.

DONE:  After you have reviewed the questions and possible choices, click “DONE.” This will add your question to your Google Docs form.

Question #2 field: After clicking DONE, you can start writing your second question. Click the question #2 fields to activate it, and start repeating the procedures above.

SAVE: Please note that clicking “DONE” will add that specific question, but to save the entire questionnaire, you should click the “SAVE” button. This will ensure that if you update the questions or choices, it will be reflected on the live questionnaire shown in the web page.

Pencil icon: The “pencil” button can be used to edit or add a new question.

+Add Item This option also provides a very easy and quick way to add questions.

{mospagebreak title=Publishing your survey}

This is how the “Edit Form” looks after filling it with questions and possible choices:

After pressing save, you can readily see the live questionnaire by clicking the link, which will look something like this: You can view the published form here: (example only)

Then you can see it live like this (I am using the grayscale template):

Quick and easy, isn’t it?

Of course your survey will not be noticed by the public unless you publish it. There are basically two ways of accessing the survey. The easiest way is to EMBED the survey iframe code into your web page. The other way involves using the direct Google Docs link, but this looks unfriendly and is not recommended.

If you decide to embed the survey into your existing or new blog post, all you have to do is to follow the steps outlined below:

Step 1: Press save, to incorporate your latest changes or modification.

Step 2: In the Edit Form mode, click “See actions” and then click “Embed.”

Step 3: Copy the iframe source code given by Google Docs. It should look like:

<iframe src="" width="500" height="337" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0">Loading…</iframe>

You can copy and paste that code into your blog post. As long as you are in “Edit HTML” mode, you will be fine. Publish it with your favorite CMS; it can be WordPress, Blogger, Drupal etc. And be ready to receive some answers.

To analyze the responses, you can customize further by clicking on “More actions,” by letting those users see their answers. You can even analyze responses using the Google Docs spreadsheet if you do some statistical analysis. This can be done in the “see responses" section.