Thing 17: Survey Tools

The ever-increasing number of online survey tools available make designing, circulating, and processing questionnaires relatively easy. With a shift to online interaction for research and teaching, the need for quality online survey tools is greater than ever. In this post, Bronwyn Disseldorp and David Ormiston-Smith discuss and compare two online tools recommended for research purposes, both with some excellent sophisticated capabilities.

Getting started

If you have a need to incorporate surveys into your research, there is an abundance of tools to choose from, but it can be difficult to work out which is the best digital tool available for your project. You may have heard of SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, but your survey requirements may be more sophisticated than what these can offer. Luckily, University of Melbourne staff and researchers have access to two high-quality tools: Qualtrics and REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture). And even better, there’s ample support to help you use them.

That Thing you do: integration into practice


Qualtrics is a survey platform well suited to research data collection. The University of Melbourne provides all staff and research students with access to Qualtrics Research Core, a powerful survey engine that allows users to easily create, design and distribute surveys for a variety of teaching, learning, and research needs. 

Qualtrics has extensive options at each stage of survey creation, distribution, data management and analysis, and collaboration with others. There are 16 sophisticated question types with many variations on their set up. The Qualtrics advanced features include embedded data, advanced branching, display logic, filters on reporting plus many others. 

Surveys can be distributed via several methods including email, anonymous links, personal links to track individual responses, social media and QR codes.

Getting started is easy: visit the University’s Qualtrics page, run by Learning Environments, to begin exploring how this tool can support your research activities, and for more advanced support resources.


REDCap is a web-accessible platform used to collect research data, particularly in the medical domain. It is provided by the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Clinical and Translational Science Platform (MCATS). The features that set REDCap apart from other data collection systems include:

  • Support for multiple study arms and events (i.e. timepoints).
  • Ability to randomise participants into groups, stratifying on fields you select.
  • Native integration with the Twilio automated SMS service, allowing surveys to be sent to participants via text message. (Note: a separate Twilio account is required, and it must be supplied with credit, as sending each SMS incurs a small cost).
  • Ability to schedule follow-up surveys based on complex logic, e.g. send a survey in 10 days to female participants who consented and have a risk score > 10.
  • A comprehensive audit log, which can be used to comply with ethics requirements.
  • Fine-grained per-project permissions control, which allows you to, for example:
    • prevent data entry users from exporting your data
    • permit statistician users to export deidentified data only
    • restrict ability to create new forms or update new ones, and so forth.
  • User-definable data quality rules that check for data inconsistencies. For example, a typical rule is one that checks that a participant’s age, based on their supplied date of birth, falls within a valid range, e.g. 18-100.
  • A companion app that can be installed on a mobile phone or tablet to allow for data collection in areas where there is no internet service. The data on the phone or tablet can be uploaded later to the central server, once internet is available.

Compared to other data collection systems such as Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey, your ability to style your surveys is fairly limited, and there are no inbuilt analytics concerned with clicks, opens, or similar, as REDCap does not have a sales or marketing focus.

University staff and students can request access by filling in this application form and sending it to the REDCap support team. Access is free, but restricted to those working on a University-affiliated project.

As REDCap is a fairly complex technical tool, it is recommended that all users watch the series of introductory tutorial videos accessible from within the system. REDCap is hosted by University Central Services at one of their Melbourne-based data centres. The software is continually being improved by its developer, Vanderbilt University, and the University applies updates roughly once every six months.

Summary table

Qualtrics REDCap
Cost UoM licence for staff and research students  Free
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)   Yes Yes
Question Types  Advanced (22+) types   14, but one of them (text fields) has a number of subtypes: date, time, date + time, phone number, email, whole number, fractional number
Skip Logic/Branching   Yes Yes
Survey Output  CSV, TSV, Excel, XML, SPSS, Google Drive, user submitted files, Tableau, JSON, OData  CSV, XML (CDISC ODM), PDF, SPSS, SAS, R, Stata 
Data Storage  Online (with Qualtrics)  Online (MySQL database hosted by Central Services, University of Melbourne) 
How long are surveys kept for?  Qualtrics surveys will be kept for the duration of the UoM licence. If an “owner” of a survey leaves the Uni, the survey’s ownership can be transferred to another staff member.   Indefinitely, but they can be archived (rendered inaccessible) or deleted with admin oversight 
Best for?   Administrative/research data collection/statistical analysis  Research data collection; technical user 
Optimised for mobile devices?  Yes Yes


The two survey tools detailed here offer different ways of creating and hosting online surveys; both have different sets of features and capabilities. Before starting the process, it is essential to understand what type of research survey/questionnaire you would like to create, for what purpose, and what specific functionality you need for it.

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).

There are sometimes concerns about cloud-based service such as Qualtrics or REDCAP for hosting your research surveys and the data collected. It is advisable that you check the following information provided by the relevant University of Melbourne research support services:

Learn more

About the authors

Bronwyn Disseldorp is a Senior Learning and Teaching Consultant in Learning Environments who leads workshops about various learning technologies in use at the University, including an introduction to Qualtrics for teaching and learning activities.

David Ormiston-Smith provides REDCap technical support as part of his work for the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences.


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