Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Creating a Form with Google Docs

A slightly different version of this article appeared in the May/June edition of the CDAA Career Momentum for 2012.

Provided that you have a Google/Gmail account, Google forms are fast and free to create. Since the Form transfers the submitted data to a spreadsheet, Google Forms offers quick tools for simple data analysis, provided that the creator selects the appropriate question type. They can be shared by email or embedded in a website, which means users at a live event or after an event can use their personal computer, tablet or even web-enabled smart phone to submit responses to your form. It also means that you don’t have to pay a web designer to create a form for your website, because you can do it yourself.

Google Forms can be recycled and edited by creators, even after data has been submitted by users, which means that a creator can correct a spelling mistake on a form seconds before a presentation is about to begin, rather than scurry for new print forms or apologize for spelling the host organization’s name incorrectly. No Google Form can be left behind on top of a desk or needs to be carted around in a box from presentation to presentation: as soon as the form is ready and accepting responses, the form is available to users and for evaluation after an event.

Once you have a Gmail or Google account, you can activate Google Docs. Google Docs offers several different types of documents: word processing (Document), presentations, spreadsheets, drawings, and forms. A collection is a group of these documents put together into one folder.

When you select Form, a new form opens in a new browser window with two questions that are ready for editing.

To add a title to the form, click in the bar marked “Untitled form” and insert your title. This is what users will see when they access the form. This title is different from the name you will give to the form in your collection.

You can make changes to the supplied questions by clicking on the pencil (edit) icon at the top right hand corner of each question.  When a question is activated for editing, it is highlighted in yellow. When activated, a question can be edited, duplicated, or deleted, as well as moved up and down in its order on the form.

What Kind of Question?

Select the type of questions from menu
Google Forms offers seven different types of questions: text, paragraph text, multiple choice, checkboxes, choose from a list, scale and grid. Each of the questions allows for a specific type of data to be entered:
  • Text is for user supplied information, and in this case, short answers. Use when asking for emails, phone numbers or personal names
  • Paragraph text is for longer answers, such as tell us about your personal career path, which can’t be answered with a yes or no, or a preformed response, such as complicated/not as complicated.
Text and paragraph text can’t be analyzed by Google’s data tools, so you will have to decide if you can get the answers you need by supplying a more controlled response. For example, if you host a conference call with attendees from all across Canada, do you need to know every town and city—-and their potential misspellings—-that you could get from a text response, or could you get useful data from just asking your respondents to pick from a list, such as Alberta, British Colombia, Manitoba (etc.)?

Unlike text responses, controlled responses speed up the response process for users; for example, if you have a series of yes or no questions, you can create multiple choice questions rather than using a text box which means the user has to type in yes or no for each of these questions.

If the answers are controlled or only specific options are available (or relevant), you can use,

  • Multiple choice which allow for as many options as you need and only one answer is possible. A user supplied other response, which appears as a textbox, is available with this type of question. Multiple choice is the only question option if you want users to proceed to specific questions based on their responses.

    For example, if you want to know if people were happy with a breakfast provided at a conference, you would only ask the people who actually ate breakfast if they were happy/unhappy. So you need one question that asks if the respondent ate breakfast, and select go to page based on answer. You can then route the people who said yes to the questions about the quality of the breakfast served, and direct the people who said no to the next question on the survey, bypassing a question about breakfast. You will need to put in page breaks, after the I ate breakfast question, and after the what did you think about breakfast question, so respondents can branch and return to the survey, and the people who don't need to answer the question skip the branch entirely.

  • multiple choice options
  • Checkboxes allow you to get multiple controlled responses from your users. For example, when you ask your attendees how they heard about an event, you could use checkboxes to find out all of the multiple marketing methods influenced them, such as your website, newsletter, and/or advertisement in professional journal.

    However, if you want to find out which newsletter and to only ask the newsletter viewers about which newsletter they saw the notice in, you need to ask for these responses on a multiple choice question. A user supplied response is also possible, so, in this case, you can allow for an “other” response and find out that they heard about it on Twitter.
  • Choose from a list means that items will appear in a drop down list and only one item can be selected. Like multiple choice and checkboxes, form creators can provide as many response options as they need. They also pop up very clearly when users are entering in responses on a web-enabled cell phone or on a tablet device. On the con side, choosing from a list of options with drop down menus is usually prone to user error, and may only allow selection when using the keyboard arrow keys. Multiple choice questions usually are usually the better option for controlled response questions. 

  • Scale is for questions on a controlled range of responses, such as are you extremely satisfied, satisfied, "meh", dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied. Google Forms has some limits on scale questions, so you can only label your first and end choices, which can confuse some of your respondents about what each of the increments could mean. For example, if you use a five point scale, with extremely satisfied and extremely dissatisfied, does the middle option mean neutral or not applicable.

  • Grids are slightly more sophisticated scale questions. The form creator can make up to five columns, such as Very satisfied, satisfied, neutral, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, with all of the columns clearly labeled, and in the rows, ask the respondent to comment on options that can be scored using the same scale. Data for each of the options is downloaded into a separate cell in the spreadsheet.

When selecting which type of question you will use, you need to decide, what kind of information you need from the respondents. For example, information that is unique to a user, such as first name or email, should be captured in a text box—-though you have to keep in mind that users make mistakes. Responses that you will want to determine the percentage of respondents and that you want to control for user errors and reduce multiple similar responses, with only one possible response, use a multiple choice or choose from a list question. If you need multiple responses, and don’t want Google to do the math for you or no percentage response is necessary, use a checkbox.

Users Accessing the Form

Google forms can be shared in multiple ways: via email, in a website, by asking the user to input the form address into a browser window or by creating a shortcut or bookmark on a computer. If you share by email, a window will pop up asking for the email addresses of the persons who need to submit information to the form. If you embed in the website, you need to copy the embed code and paste it into the HTML on your website. Email addresses are best when you have everyone’s email address, which is not always the case at a public event or an event where registered guests can bring additional people. Embedding on a website is suitable when you need to gather data over a long period of time and when you are able to make changes to a website, which is not always the case in an organizational setting.


Forms and the submitted data can also be shared with other members of a team or with respondents. In the spreadsheet associated with your form, click on the blue Share button in the top right corner and a new window will appear. You can email the form directly to respondents, which allows them to submit answer questions on the form. You can also select specific people who can view the form, which includes the associated spreadsheet, or who can edit the form, which allows them to make changes to the questions and to edit the user responses in the spreadsheet.

To allow users to submit responses, you need to set the permissions in the Share pop up so that users with the link can submit responses. This is the appropriate sharing level if you are sharing the form (and not the results in the spreadsheet) by email or on a website, and for specific respondents, such as people on a mailing list or users that have already attended an event. If you are allowing anyone to submit, such as people who may want to sign up for your newsletter, if you have an event open to the public—or even members of a professional group that you haven’t met yet—allow anyone on the web to submit to your form. This does not allow them to share or edit the data in the spreadsheet, only to view the form.

For more on sharing and what level of permissions to grant users, refer to the Google Support page Share, publish and embed.

Show summary of responses

Based on the type of question you have prepared, Google can prepare simple charts and graphs that can be shown as soon as a response has been submitted. For example, if you wish to run a poll during a presentation, you can enter the spreadsheet associated with the form and from the Form menu, select Show summary of responses. All of the response data will be shown, but only data with only one possible user response, such as a multiple choice, can be shown in chart form.

This is perfect for showing results to a group, such as evaluating the success of an event in committee. However, the responses are not available as a summary until users press the submit button at the end of the user version of the form. This means that if you have three questions you want the respondents to answer at different points in the presentation and you want to control when the attendees see these questions, you need to create a separate form for each of the “stops” in the presentation. If you are showing the data analysis as part of a summary, create just one form and show the summary of data at the end of the presentation.

Reusing the forms

One form creates one spreadsheet, but you may be using the same form for multiple events. If you want to make each event form distinct, but use the same form, you will need to make a copy, which is in the File menu in the spreadsheet associated with your form.
You can also use make changes to these forms. For example, if you are making a presentation at a specific venue that attendees have to come to in-person, but also presenting via conference call, you can use the same form, but remove the accessible by public transportation option from the form given to the conference call attendees. You can remove the option within a question by clicking on the X at the end of the field with the option, or if the option is part of a standalone question, you can just click on the Trash can icon to delete the entire question.


With some initial planning, Google Forms are simple to create. They are highly portable, as well as easily and immediately editable. They are a simple solution for people who need to use multiple, but similar forms for a variety of events, who want to handle their own event management and mailing lists and who want to reduce the bill from their web designer. Evaluation forms can also enhance professional practice, since you can see almost immediately what is effective for your individual clients or presentation audience.

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