The SharePoint survey lifecycle

survey-headerThe other day someone asked me if I could help him set up a SharePoint survey. He wanted to use our nice new intranet and did not even mention the word “Surveymonkey” 🙂

I do not have much time for individual support at the moment so I thought I’d find him some help from the internet.  I found a good article from Microsoft about creating a survey but it stopped at the creation of the survey list. All the other blogs that I found on the topic touched very briefly on other settings at most. The best one I found also included a good number of benefits and examples of how to use surveys,

In my experience most problems occur because people think a survey is ready-for-use once the questions and answers have been set up. However, there are a lot of things you have to think about, so I still had to write the complete manual myself.

What will I cover in this post?

This will be a long read, so let me inform you of the topics I will cover:

  1. Determine your needs
  2. Find a site
  3. Create questions
  4. Give your audience correct permissions
  5. Decide on “show names”
  6. Decide on one or multiple entries per person
  7. Visibility of entries
  8. Welcome page and thank you page
  9. Testing your survey
  10. Launching your survey
  11. Monitoring results
  12. Gathering and analyzing results
  13. Deactivating the survey
  14. Deleting the survey

So, here goes!

1. Determine your needs

It makes a difference if you use your survey for a fun purpose (who will win the World Football Cup?), for a neutral business purpose (to collect suggestions for a new product), or for a serious and possibly even sensitive purpose. (How do you feel about this company? What were your experiences with this project?). For the latter, you will need more thinking, more questions, more careful wording and stricter settings than for the first example.
This is beyond this post’s scope, but this article may be a good starting point.
Update April 4, 2017: And as serendipity would have it, just after I published this blog this Tweet appeared in my timeline:

2. Find a site

A SharePoint survey is a list in a SharePoint site, so you need to have a site. You also need to be a site owner since it is very likely you will be fiddling with permissions and need to monitor responses. If you have one, you may need to consider the survey audience. Is your confidential project site a good place for a survey for all employees? Is your open site a good place for a very sensitive survey for senior management only about an upcoming divestiture? It can be done, but it may be more difficult to set up and manage than if your site has an audience that sort of matches the audience of your survey.
In some cases it is better to have a special site for this purpose.

If you do not have a site, and you are on Office365, an Excel survey may be an option. I have no experience with this, and I do not know if the information below is relevant for this.

3. Create questions and answers

First of all, plan your survey. Microsoft has some help for that, including an overview of the types of questions and answers.
Secondly, create the survey, add questions and answers and change some settings.
Please be aware that you will be unable to export a Likert scale (rating scale) question/answer to Excel for further analysis.

This is what a survey will look like:

Survey-homepage
This is what you see when you access a survey from the Site Contents page. Consider it your “survey homepage” and it is the starting point for many actions.

4. Give your audience correct permissions

Many people expect that a survey is automatically  set up to receive responses from everyone, but this is a normal SharePoint list with normal SharePoint behavior. So, in most cases you will need to give your audience Contribute permissions to the survey.

If you do not give them Read access to the site, be aware that they can only access the survey via the direct link to the survey and they can not enter the site.

5. Decide on “show names”

This is a setting that you will find in “Advanced Settings” when you create the survey, or afterwards in Settings > Survey Settings > List name, description and navigation.
The default is “Yes”. If you select “No”, all names of people will be replaced with ***.
This is not really anonymous because a Site Owner will be able to switch that at will, making all names visible again. During a survey it may make sense to have the names replaced, and only make them visible when you export the results, but this is also depending on your choices for point 7.

Survey-settings1
You can decide to show names, or ***; and also to allow one or more responses

6. Decide on one or multiple entries per person

The default is “No” and in most cases that makes perfect sense.
If your survey collects information such as ideas or suggestions, it can be useful to set this to “Yes” so people can add multiple suggestions.
This setting can also be found in “Advanced Settings” when you create the survey, or afterwards in Settings > Survey Settings > List name, description and navigation.
Please note that most people get into a right panic when they want to enter a survey twice and get the error message. If they read the message, it is perfectly clear, but who reads an error message? 🙂
It may be good to tell them they can enter once only, or multiple times.

survey-error
This message will be shown when you want to respond twice to a survey when you can only enter once. Looks perfectly clear to me! 🙂

7. Visibility of entries

Do you want everyone to see each others responses? This can be a good idea if use your survey for logging issues, so people can see which issues have been submitted already. But for a survey asking for opinions about the company strategy you may want to limit visibility.
Go to your survey, click Settings > Survey Settings > Advanced Settings.

Set the first radio button to “Read responses that were created by the user”.

This way, people will only see their own item. They will still see the total number of items in Site Contents, but they will not able to see anything else.
Also check out the options below about Create and Edit access. By default people will be able to edit only their own responses. In some cases it may be good that they can edit all responses, but to be honest I have never come across the need for this settings.
Never select None because this also means that a user can not add anything, which is rather odd for a survey.

survey-responsesvisible
These are the default settings for a survey. Often it is better to select ” read responses that were created by the user”  so people only see their own items.

8. Welcome page and thank you page (optional)

I often add a page with some more information about the survey and a nice button or text which leads you to the entry form upon click. After submitting their entry, people can be led to a Thank You page, thanking them for their contribution and informing them about e.g. when the results will be published or the prize will be drawn.
The default return page is the ‘survey homepage” (screenshot above).

It is easy to create as follows:

  • Create a page and add welcome text and a link or button to the survey
  • Create a page with a thank-you-and-these-are-the-next-steps-message. Copy the link of this page to Notepad or a Word document.
  • Click “Respond to this survey” on your survey and copy the link into Notepad or a Word document. Delete all text after Source=
  • Add the URL of your thank-you-page after Source=
  • On the welcome page, add the new link to the link or button

Please be aware that your audience needs Read access to both pages, so if you have a confidential site where the audience is much larger than the site’s regular audience, I would not go this way, since it will either mean setting item level permissions (and you know I do not like unique permissions) on those pages OR a lot of error messages 🙂

survey-welcomepage
Example of a welcome page. I have used a Web Part Page for this. When I click on “Enter the survey” I will go to the page below.
survey-survey
This is my survey. When clicking on “Finish” I will  go to the page below.
survey-thankyoupage
Example of a Thank-You page. I have used a Site Page for this; strangely enough it takes my Office365 theme instead of my Site theme.

9. Testing your survey

I have created many surveys, but even I test everyone of them before they go live.  Ask one or two people, preferably from the target audience (again, depending on purpose and audience and complexity), to go through the complete process and respond to your survey. Do they understand the questions and answers? Have you missed anything obvious, or are some things redundant? Does everything work from a technical/functional perspective?

10. Launching your survey

You can inform your audience in different ways, depending on urgency, topic and audience.
If your survey needs to be executed in a certain timeframe, you will probably send a link in an email or post it as a news item.

If you have a long-term survey, you can add the web part to a (home)page, add the link as a Promoted Link, a Summary Link or in the navigation, so all users of your site are reminded on a regular basis to give their feedback.

You can use

  • the link to the survey (people will need to click “Respond to this survey”)
  • the link that you get when you click “Respond to this survey”
  • the combined link that takes people to the Thank-you page after “Finish” as in item 8 (you skip the Welcome page)
  • the link to the Welcome page as in item 8

11. Monitoring results

During the time the survey is active, you may want to keep track of the number of replies you get.  You can set an alert to keep track of new submissions, or look in Site Contents on a regular basis.
When you are on the Site Contents page, clicking on the survey and then on “Show graphical summary”  will show you an overview of the results;  clicking “View all Responses” will show you who has completed the survey and their individual contributions.
Those two options are only available for the site owner.

survey-graphical summary
Example of the Graphical Summary. Q1 is a Choice-question, Q2 is a Rating Scale.
survey-individual responses
An “individual response” . Clicking on the … will show you what I entered

12. Gathering and analyzing results

When you need a status update, or when the survey is over, you can either look at the graphical summary, or export the results into an Excel file for further analysis.
Click Actions > Export to spreadsheet.

Again, please be aware you can only make screenshots of any questions that need a response on a rating/Likert scale. These questions and answers can not be exported.

13. Deactivating the survey

Once the survey is over and you are working on the results, conclusions and next steps, you will want to stop people from making new entries. You can do this by changing the permissions from Contribute to Read and/or deleting the unique permissions, or by removing the audience from your survey or site altogether.

14. Deleting the survey

Once you have exported or captured the results and determined next steps, your survey project is completed and you can delete the survey.
Go to your survey > Settings > Survey settings > Delete this survey.

If you have used a welcome and thank-you page, you can delete those as well.

That’s it, folks!

As I said, this has become quite a long post, but I just wanted to take you through the complete process. There’s more to a survey than just creating some questions and answers!

For your next survey project, I would appreciate it if you would follow these steps and let me know if this has been sufficient information to do it yourself, or if I have overlooked something. (and if yes, what)

Good luck!

Image courtesy of fantasista at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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