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google_docs_logoAdd this one to the list of “cool Google features I really should have already known about.”

Google Docs, in addition to being a stellar way to write, store and manage your documents and slideshows, is also a fantastically useful way to collect survey data. Basically, you send out a form, people fill it in, and Google reports the documents back to you in an incredibly simple and easy-to-understand fashion.

To get started, sign in at Google Docs. If you have a Gmail account, you have a Google Docs account. If you don’t, come out from that rock you live under, boot up the computer, and get yourself a Gmail account. Once you’re logged in, click “New,” and then “Form.”

Give your form a title and an explanation. The explanation field is perfect for explaining what the survey is, or or what people need to know in order to take it properly. Then you start asking questions.

Type the first question into the “Question title” field. Then select whether you want the question to be “text” and have a written response, “paragraph text” which allows for long-form responses, ” multiple choice, scaled (1-10, for example) or a checklist of options.

Fill in all the available answers, choose whether or not to make it a required question (i.e. do they have to answer this one before sending in the survey?), and click “done.”



To get a new question, click the “Add Question” button at the top left of the page. I found it easier though to just duplicate the question by clicking on the two boxes on the right side of the question field, and then change the answers with the formatting already set for me. To each his own, though.

Once you’ve finished creating your form, it’s time to get responses. You can email the form to people, which allows them to fill it out and submit it right from their email – this is probably the way to start. You can also, however, embed the form on a website, and let people fill it in that way; this is better if you’re trying to get mass responses, instead of from a select few people.

When you’re emailing the form, Google Docs hooks up to your Gmail contacts, making the process of sending your form a whole lot faster.

Once people start filling out your form, you can see the responses you get. You can view the summary (with graphs charting who chose or wrote what), or as a spreadsheet to view the individual responses. Particularly for surveys or polls, the summary response is great – especially since you can always click “see complete responses” and have them available to you immediately.


You can edit your form as often as you want, send it to as many recipients as you want, and use the tracking ability for all its worth. Google Docs makes getting information a whole lot more efficient, and a whole lot simpler for both sides of the equation.

Next time you want to ask a question, poll a group, or figure out who’s coming to the party, give Google Docs a shot. It’s okay, you don’t have to thank me.

How do you get information from people?

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