Testing out Google Forms

Over the last couple of weeks I have been creating an on-line survey to find out about data management practices amongst researchers at the University of York. The aim is to find out what sorts of digital data is being produced and what plans are in place to manage their data, both for the lifetime of their project and for the longer term.

It was suggested that rather than purchasing a licence for a survey tool such as Bristol Online Surveys we use Google Forms. The University of York has moved to Google for e-mail, calendars and document sharing, so this seemed like a logical step.

The survey is quite long with 40+ questions and several redirects or dependencies required based on which way an earlier question has been answered. My previous experience of creating on-line forms has primarily been to hand-code them using Coldfusion and a database back end, so this was a new venture for me. Here are my first impressions of Google Forms.

  • Easy to use. Can quickly jump into it and set a survey up without any training.
  • Allows for a certain amount of interactivity - skipping certain questions if a previous question has been answered a particular way.
  • Not had a chance to properly test this yet, but it looks like visualisation of survey results is good. The form allows you to quickly and easily see the survey results as they are collected in the form of pie charts, graphs and summary statistics. See the example below which is created based on a small amount of sample data.

  • Allows you to create as many pages as you like and add title and text to each page
  • Allows you to add help text to each question
  • Some nice features that I didn't expect such as the ability to create a grid question such as the one illustrated below:
  • A nice way to integrate with University of York's existing Google Applications. Can set up the form to automatically collect respondents' name and e-mail address based on their Google login.

  • No progress bar - this would be a useful addition. In order to allow people to see their progress through the survey, I have added a note (e.g. page 3 of 14) to the top of each page that describes where they are and how far they have to go.
  • No way to import drop down lists. For a number of questions I had long lists of possible responses for the respondent to select from (e.g. a list of all of the departments in the university or funders for the project). Despite the fact that I had these lists in digital form, there didn't seem to be any way of importing them into the form. Each had to be copied and pasted individually ...quite a time consuming exercise!
  • No way of changing the order of the drop down list. I would have hoped that after entering the list of drop down options, if I then decided that the order should be slightly different or I wanted to add a new option near the top of the list, that this would be a simple task. Unfortunately, it was not possible to simply click and drag the options to re-order them, they needed to be re-typed in the order that was required!
  • There were cases where I would have liked to configure the form more. For example to make a certain question mandatory depending on how a previous one was answered. This is not possible in Google forms.

This looks to be a good tool, especially for setting up simple surveys. There are definitely ways that it could be improved but I do think this is going to be fit for purpose for our Research Data Management survey. It will be interesting to start looking at the results once it goes live.

Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist


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