An introduction to SharePoint surveys
SharePoint surveys allow you to easily collect input and feedback from colleagues using customizable questions, rating scales, and branching logic. Any Site Owner has the ability to create surveys that support various types of questions in their SharePoint site(s). Questions can be open-ended, choice-based, numerical, person names, etc. Anyone with at least contributor (edit) access can respond to the survey.
Why surveys are useful
Surveys are simple to use, pretty easy to build and update, and great for analysis of responses. It’s a more technical solution that calling or emailing people, but not nearly as complex as using InfoPath (which you should avoid anyway since Microsoft announced it’s being slowly killed.) Office 365 also offers Excel Surveys, which are not as robust.
When you want to gather information or feedback from colleagues, generally the go-to method is to send them a blanket email and hope they respond with the right information in a timely fashion. But that never works correctly, especially if you’re contacting a lot of people. Outlook even pushes the functionality with its voting button functionality. If what you’re asking about is more complicated than one yes-or-no question, don’t waste your time with Outlook voting buttons.
The major downside to simply emailing your questions is your respondents may not answer all your questions, which leaves you with incomplete data. Additionally, there’s no easy way to compile the responses for you to analyze other than manually logging the responses in a document or spreadsheet. The inefficiency is two-fold: collecting the responses is unnecessary work for you and reaching out to those who didn’t answer all the questions wastes their time as well.
SharePoint surveys get around those issues, plus they offer a number of advanced settings that can help you get great input in a user-friendly way. Surveys can be created by the site owner. Responses can be completed by anyone who has at least contributor access (usually part of the site’s Members group).
Surveys support various advanced settings, as well:
- Anonymous responses: You can make the responses anonymous. No other lists in SharePoint support this option without custom coding. (Survey Settings > General Settings > Survey Options)
- Multiple responses: You can limit respondents to one survey response or allow for multiple from the same person. If your survey is meant to take a vote, single responses would do best. For more open-ended surveys, allowing multiple responses is helpful. (Survey Settings > General Settings > Survey Options)
- Editable responses: You can provide respondents the ability to edit their response or you can protect the response from ever being edited. Only the author of a response can make edits if decide to allow them to edit their response(s). (Survey Settings > Advanced Settings > Item-level Permissions)
- Visibility of responses: You can choose between allowing respondents to see all responses or only their response. (Survey Settings > Advanced Settings > Item-level Permissions)
- Logic branching: Based on the answer to question A, you might want to send your respondents to question B or question C. Logic branching lets you point your respondents to the correct question based on their answer, saving them from irrelevant or time-wasting questions and keeping your responses clean and more valuable to you. (Instructions here.)
- Excel integration: Export your responses to Excel to quickly and easily analyze the responses. For example, you can sort the data based one of your questions, or filter out responses that include a certain answer. This gives you a powerful way to look at the information and make decisions in a data-minded way. (Actions > Export to Excel)
- Create templates: One of your surveys particularly complicated? Need to reuse it in the future? Make a template from your masterpiece so you can create a clean version of it for future use. That way you don’t have to recreate it each time you need a new, similar survey. Only supported in SharePoint on premises; you can’t do this in Office 365. (Survey Settings > Save as template)
- Sign up sheets: Are you running a class and need an idea of who will be attending which sessions? Create a survey asking for name, contact info, which class topic, and which available session they want to take part in.
- Acknowledgement forms: Do you need people to sign off confirming they’ve completed a training, audit, or other actionable item that you need a record of? Create a simple survey asking for name, contact info, and a confirmation question stating they completed the step. But be nice. Don’t make them read your own version of the iTunes user agreement.
- Feedback: Get feedback on your latest project or service. Surveys offer a great way for someone to let you know how they feel about your work and if you give them an obvious way to access the survey, chances are they’ll let you know how they feel and how you can make the experience better. For example, offer a link for feedback on your SharePoint website asking how to improve it, or include a call to action (with link to survey) at the end of an online training module. There are some go-to questions you should always ask to understand how someone feels about a product or service.
- Evaluations: Looking for feedback on a recent class you taught or meeting you led? Send out a survey to the attendees asking what went well, what didn’t, and how the next one could be made better.
- Group decisions:
- Get an idea of where everyone’s head’s at when it comes to your next department retreat.
- Scheduling a pot-luck lunch? Have your team respond with which day/time is preferable and what items they’ll bring.
- Choose where your holiday luncheon will be. Critical topics here, people! See where people want to go and let the group decide by secret ballot via survey first, then discuss the results in your next staff meeting.
- Take food orders if your team orders out regularly. Link to the menus you’ve collected and stored in a dedicated document library.
How to do it
- Follow these steps to create a survey. (Note: must be a Site Owner to create a survey.)
- Follow these steps to incorporate logic branching.
- Sketch out your survey first: Don’t jump into the survey-building process too quickly. Write out your questions in Word or on paper first. If you’re going to use branching logic, physically drawing the flowchart will help you stay sane. Once you have a finalized written version of the survey, then you can start building it in SharePoint. If you’re simply moving an already-existing form (in Word or Excel format, for example), you likely don’t need to do much sketching since it’s just a transition from one format to another.
- Permissions: When a Site Owner creates a survey, it will inherit the permissions of its parent site. I suggest removing all permissions except the owners at first. Give a few individuals Contributor access to test (see below) and when you’ve confirmed everything works well, it likely makes sense to give Contributor access to your site’s entire Visitor group. However, you may want to limit permissions to a small group of people or a specific SharePoint group made just for this survey.
- Test, test, test!: Once you’ve created the survey, send it to someone to test it. This is both a technical test (to make sure the permissions act as intended) and a sanity check on the wording of the questions and how they flow. Make sure the tester is not a Site Owner, otherwise you won’t get a feel for whether permissions have been set up properly. If you’re using logic branching, make sure you have a couple people test the survey a few different times. Delete the responses once testing is complete. (Note that your response numbers will be off if you have someone test, but I’ve never found an actual need to start the responses at number one.)
- Use the right URL: When the survey is ready for prime time, you’ll want to communicate it and link to it so your respondents can access it. You can use the URLs listed below in an email (where you should explain what you’re asking for) or from hyperlinks on your SharePoint site (where, again, you should explain what you’re asking for). You have two options:
- The survey description page: This is the home page for the survey and it shows the survey’s name, description, and some other pertinent information. From there, your respondents must click “Respond to this survey” to complete the Survey. The survey description — just like in any SharePoint list — can be used to describe what the survey’s for. The URL will be in the form of …/SurveyName/overview.aspx.
- A blank survey response form: You can link directly to the form without having to click “Respond to this survey”. This method goes around the survey description page, so your respondents will not see the name and description or any context, for that matter. That means you need to be explicit on what the survey is in your email or on your SharePoint site. The URL will be in the form of …/SurveyName/NewForm.aspx.
- Tell people if the survey is anonymous: If your survey allows anonymous responses, tell people that. They’ll want to know if they can be free to say whatever they want without fear of retribution.
- Build the survey in the right place: If you’re sending a survey to your work group, create the survey in that group’s team site. If it’s a corporate-wide survey, it might make sense to build the survey in the site where your corporate home page is. If you’re not sure where to build it, you may want to ask your IT organization for an extra SharePoint site just for hosting miscellaneous surveys.
Read this post to get an idea of what you should be wary of when using a SharePoint survey.
Permissions required to use
- Create: You must be a site owner to create a survey.
- Edit: You must be given full control of a survey to edit the questions and responses.
- View responses: You must be given full control of a survey to view the responses.
- Respond: You must be given contributor access to respond to the survey.
- View: Why would you want to give anyone view access to a survey, but not let them complete the survey?
That said, if you have an actual need here, you must be given visitor access to view the survey questions.