Thing 2: Survey Tools

Image: “Survey, Opinion Research” by andibreit via Pixabay (CC0)

The ever-increasing number of online survey tools available make designing, circulating, and processing questionnaires relatively easy. For research purposes, though, it can be difficult to work out which is the best digital tool available for your project. To point you in the right direction, Thing 2 discusses and compares 6 online tools.

Getting Started

Lime Survey

LimeSurvey is a free, open-source survey application suitable for both simple and advanced questionnaires. Users can develop and publish surveys, and collect responses via an interactive process without any programming knowledge. LimeSurvey uses the PHP programming language and an MySQL database for the survey data storage. It has a straightforward user-interface and is packed with many useful features; however, the initial learning curve for non-technical users could be rather steep. If you have experience with online surveys, though, and are familiar with current web technology, you should not find it too hard to familiarise yourself with the application in a relatively short time.

The main advantage is that your data is stored in the University of Melbourne data centre – suitable for projects with human ethics approvals. LimeSurvey is currently being provided as a best-effort support service by the University of Melbourne’s Research Platform Services (ResPlat).


SurveyMonkey is a popular and easy-to-use online survey service with a wide range of templates. The basic version of SurveyMonkey (for up to 10 questions and a cap on 100 responses per survey) is free and the data will be stored, but cannot be exported. A subscription version is also available for unlimited questions as well as additional features such as survey logic and data exports, etc.  SurveyMonkey comes with a user-friendly interface and many attractive and easily navigated templates. It doesn’t allow you to share individual surveys with others unless you all have access to the same account. The back-end interface is probably one of the best around. There is considerable support and training material available. If you have never used online survey tools before, this could be the place to start.

Google Forms

Google Forms is a free web tool provided by Google that allows users to create collaborative forms, surveys, questionnaires and, using Google Spreadsheets, to record all the responses. A Google (or Gmail) account is required in order to use this tool. As part of the Google Drive service, Google Forms is a simple and easy-to-use tool that is probably familiar to many people with Google accounts. One of its key strengths is that it allows for multiple users from multiple devices and it offers basic survey questions that are perhaps more suited for less complex surveys. The customisation of the interface is limited but it does offer close integration with other Google products such as Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets.


An easy-to-use and powerful web-based survey tool to create and conduct online data collection and generate evaluation reports. Qualtrics is a recognized research tool that allows you to conduct online surveys and polls and enables you to share and collaborate results with others. You can apply for a free Qualtrics account with limited features, however a subscription to Qualtrics offers many advanced features such as text analysis and integration with other tools such as Tableau and NVivo.

As of 2018  University of Melbourne staff and graduate researchers can access Qualtrics under an institutional licence.


Another free open-source survey tool especially focused on collecting data using mobile devices. The simple and easy-to-use KoBoToolbox allows users to create survey forms from scratch, store ‘ questions’ in the tool’s Library section, and share surveys with colleagues and other researchers. Designed with the difficulties and unpredictability of fieldwork in mind, this tool works offline, allowing users to quickly and reliably collect survey data on Android, iOS and other devices. Data can be inspected moments after it has been collected or downloaded for advanced analysis in Excel, CSV, KML, and other formats. Two excellent features of KoBoToolbox are:

1. Quick Analysis – You can create summary tables for all collected data using simple frequencies or calculating averages (mean, median, and mode)

2. Mapping – KoBoToolbox has inbuilt geolocation functionality, showing a map of all your collected GPS coordinates. You’re then able to download all GPS points to integrate into other software.

Many Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) researchers at the University of Melbourne are using this simple tool to create surveys due to its quick analysis and geo-mapping functionality. The offline functionality has made KoBoToolbox particularly useful tool for humanitarians and global health workers collecting information in humanitarian crises, especially following natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods in remote areas. When you collect data using KoboToolbox, it is stored on remotely on the KoBoToolbox server. If you are working for a humanitarian organisation you can use the server hosted by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Everyone else can use KoBoToolbox’s own server (, however, they ask users to not collect more than 1,500 interviews per month. There are no limits as to the amount of time that your data is going to be stored on the server. KoboToolBox always encourages users to store the final dataset from any server in multiple locations outside of KoBoToolbox.

UniMelb’s Research Platform Services (ResPlat) provides regular training and consultation on KoBoToolbox to assist researchers to tailor the survey form to their research needs.

REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture)

REDCap is a web-based informatics tool for building and managing online surveys and databases, particularly in the medical research domain. REDCap is provided by the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Clinical and Translational Science Platform (MCATS). There are over 400 active users at the University using REDCap for capturing their research data. Both the REDCap server and the underpinning storage are hosted in the University of Melbourne data centre and this service comes with comprehensive support and online training materials. REDCap is a great option for researchers conducting research in the clinical or translational research domains.

Summary Table

Lime Survey

Survey Monkey

Google Forms






Basic (Free)






Basic (Free)

Different Licence Offerings

UM license for staff & GRs

Free Free


Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Question Types

(29 types)
(13 types)
(9 types)
(22+ types)
(14 types)
(12 types)

Skip Logic /Branching

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Survey Output

CSV, TSV, Excel, Word, PDF, SPSS, XML, R, SPSS


SPSS (Advantage & Premier only)

CSV, TSV, Excel, Word, PDF CSV, SPSS, XML, Tableau, KSON, TSV, OData CSV (via KoBoSync) CSV, XML (CDISC ODM), PDF

Data Storage

(MySQL database provided by Research Platform Services (ResPlat), University of Melbourne)
(with Survey Monkey)
(with Google via Google Spreadsheets)
(with Qualtrics)
(with KoBoToolbox) Humanitarian organisations can use server hosted by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(MySQL database provided by Melbourne Clinical and Translational Science Platform (MCATS), University of Melbourne)

How Long are Surveys Kept For?

As long as you have a
LimeSurvey account
As long as you have a SurveyMonkey account As long as you have an active Google account As long as you
have an
active Qualtrics
As long as you have a valid
KoBoToolbox account

Best For?

research data collectionTechnical user

Funded administrative/ research data collection

Non-technical user

Unfunded administrative/ research data collection

Non-technical user

Funded administrative/ research data collection

Technical user

Unfunded administrative/ research data collection

Technical user

Unfunded administrative/ research data collection

Technical user

Optimised for Mobile Devices

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes  Yes


Each of above-mentioned survey tools offer different ways of creating and hosting online surveys and each has slightly different sets of features and functionalities. Before starting, it is essential to understand what type of research survey/questionnaire you would like to create and what functionalities you need.

It’s also important to check if there are any restrictions that prevent you from hosting and sharing certain survey data with external commercial services (e.g. privacy, ethics, copyright, and data security issues).

The University of Melbourne has obligations in relation to the collection and management of personal and health information under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic) and Health Records Act 2001 (Vic).

Prior to using any of these cloud-based services for hosting your research surveys you should check information provided by the relevant University of Melbourne research support services:

Learn More

Consider undertaking a course such as the University’s Statistical Consulting Centre’s Design and Analysis of Surveys that covers the principles and practice of designing surveys, and survey the data analysis. More courses.

Statistical support and advice – the Melbourne Statistical Consulting Platform provides up to 10 free hours of statistical advice to eligible UoM graduate researchers, across their candidature. Consultants can assist with all stages of a research project and graduate researchers are strongly encouraged to see a consultant when they are planning their study.

Alternative survey options to consider: If you have a modest usage and do not expect a huge responses from your survey, you might also want to have a look at Survio as it offers a clean user interface with some useful tools to analyse your survey results online. Read the 2017 review of other commercial tools in PCMag.

This post was written by Andy Tseng (Research Platforms), Jennifer Warburton (Research & Collections), and Tyne Sumner (Research Platforms).

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