Creating a Dissertation Survey

May 5, 2011

Setting up a survey based study for your dissertations can be both challenging and frustrating, especially when you’re short on time or resources.  But with an online survey tool such as Rational Survey, it doesn’t have to be that way. The following tutorial will help guide you through the simple process of setting up your dissertation questionnaire, configuring the survey settings, distributing it via the web or on paper, and then analyzing the dissertation responses.

Step 1 – Developing your questions

Before creating your survey, consider the following:

  • Create a list of information that you may need to know in order to support your thesis.
  • Propose a set of questions that will solicit those facts.
  • Identify who would need to answer your questions to find a target demographic.
  • Avoid asking redundant questions.  Doing so may misconstrue your results and lead to conflicting answers between different questions.
  • Choose questions that solicit a clear and definite response to avoid ambiguity.
  • Decide on an appropriate sample size.  Do you need 10 responders, or 10,000?
  • Avoid using “Other” answer choices.  Use “None of the above” and add a second question that clarifies this response.
  • Group questions with the same set of predefined answers (choices) into multiple choice grids to shorten questionnaire length.
  • Break long questionnaires into separate pages to avoid overwhelming the respondents and to give them the opportunity of submitting their responses in smaller sets of questions to help maintain focus and to avoid losing data if they leave the survey unfinished.

One of the keys to good questionnaire design is to learn to see the questionnaire as a tool for acquiring measurements.  Having this perspective gives you the ability to create more effective questionnaires by building from the top down and designing around the objectives and constraints of your investigation.

Identify and formulate the most important questions first and then develop supplementary questions to clarify less critical measurements.

Step 2 – Building the questionnaire

If you haven’t already done so, take a second to register a free account by using the link below.

Free Account Registration

Now that you have some idea of what you’re going to ask on your dissertation survey, you can begin constructing your questionnaire. Note: Feel free to skip down to the “survey configuration” section if you already understand the basics of survey & question creation. After registering or logging in, click “Configure” to go to the questionnaire builder.

Now proceed to edit your default sample questionnaire or create a new one by clicking “Create Questionnaire” and then entering a survey title.

To edit existing questions, hover over the desired question and click the icon or double click anywhere on the question to bring up the question dialog.  Adding a question is just as simple.  Click the  icon to bring up the add question dialog or click the  icon within the question’s context menu to clone the question.

After opening, to change the question type, select from the “Select Type” drop down.

To change the question text, simply select and edit the content of the “Question” field.

To add answers to multiple choice, multiple choice grid, or image question types just type in the answer choices one per line within the “Answers” field.

Once you’ve typed in your question, added the answers, or changed any of the settings, click “Update” or “Create” to update/add your question to the questionnaire.

To add a new page, click the “Add” button at the top of your questionnaire.

This will open the “Add Page” dialog where you can enter in an optional title for your page .  Click “Add Page” to create your new dissertation survey page.

Step 3 – Dissertation Survey Settings

After adding all your questions and pages, click “Next” or “questionnaire->settings” to proceed to the settings page.  The settings are broken down into related groups and displayed within tabs. Here’s a brief overview of each tab:


  • Require Answers – Require responses and display an error if the responder doesn’t submit a response. Great for making sure that all questions are answered.
  • Require Agree to Terms - Make the responder agree and accept your survey terms by checking an “agree to terms” checkbox.  Useful for adding a disclosure agreement.
  • Back Functionality - Allow or prevent responder from returning to previously viewed or completed survey pages.


  • Time Limit – Set a dissertation time limit.  Give responders a limited amount of time to complete the survey.  If the survey is not completed within the specified time frame, all of the completed responses on the respondent’s current page are submitted as is.
  • Start / End Date - Make the survey available during a specified date and time range.  This is useful if you only want to collect dissertation responses for a few days or hours.  Ex: April 14, 2010 – April 21, 2010


  • Start Text - Add some intro text to show before the responder starts your survey such as a welcome message or some relevant background information.
  • Completion Text - Display a completion message after the survey is completed.  Usually a “Thanks for taking our survey message” or information on when and where the survey results will be published.  This is also a great place to add links to the next survey or series of surveys if there are more than one that may need to be completed.


  • Show Survey Title - Display or hide the survey title.
  • Show Page Title - Display or hide the dissertation page title.
  • Show Page Number – Show or hide the page number.
  • Colors - Choose colors to use for the questions, answers, and background of the questionnaire.  Great when implementing your survey on a university web page.
  • Font -Select an alternate font from a drop down list.
  • Font Size - Make the text size larger or smaller.  Perhaps your survey will be targeting the elderly, in which case you should make the font as large and clear as possible.
  • Branding – Upload a custom banner to help responders identify your project or to meet a presentation requirement.


  • Require Responder Login – Force responders to identify themselves or authenticate before viewing the survey.
  • Login Using – This option is only displayed when the previous one is enabled and lets you decide on how responders will access your controlled study.  (See below “Anonymous or Controlled Study”)
  • Reset on Completion – Allow people to take the survey more than once from the same computer and browser.  If the survey is anonymous, a new responder will be created and the survey will start over once it is completed.  This is useful if you are manually entering in response data from a pile of anonymous paper surveys.  If the survey is controlled, the responder will be logged out and will have to log back in after refreshing or clicking the survey link which is great if you would like to allow a group of people to log in and identify themselves from the same computer.


  • This tab displays an interactive grid of responders and allows you to add new responders individually or as a group by uploading a formatted CSV file that can be exported from Excel.  It also allows you to edit or delete existing responders to make sure that you have a clean set of responders.

Anonymous or Controlled Study

Based on the dissertation survey requirements, you will have either an anonymous or controlled study.  With an anonymous survey, your responders are not required to identify themselves before taking your survey, making the survey available to anyone with access to your unique survey link.  In a controlled study, responders are usually known ahead of time and assigned some form of login credentials before the survey is distributed.

Alternatively, you may want to give unknown responders the ability to identify themselves by provide a name and email address to either continue the survey at a later date or to filter out unwanted responders from the grid. To configure a purely anonymous survey, from the survey settings page, set the the require responder login setting to “No”.

For a controlled study, set the “Require Responder Login” option to “Yes” and then decide how responders will access your survey.  You have several options:

  • First Name – Require a First Name
  • Last Name – Require a Last Name
  • Email – Require an Email Address
  • Username – Require a username
  • Password – Require a password.  This option will only allow participants that have been added prior to taking the survey to continue to the survey.
  • Date of Birth – Require a date of birth

Note: If you don’t require a password, all visitors will be able to register themselves before taking the survey with whichever combination of registration fields that you check.  This feature is particularly useful when you want to gather the names and email addresses of responders during the survey collection stage and want to give responders the ability to continue their survey by logging back in at a later date.

Also, remember to click “Save” after configuring  your survey.

Lastly, click “survey->settings->preview” to preview your survey and double check all of your questions and answers to make sure that there are no spelling mistakes or missing questions or pages.

Step 4 – Distributing the Survey

There are six different ways of distributing the survey.  To get started, go to the distribute page by clicking “Distribute” in the top navigation.  Once the page loads, you will notice a set of tabs:


This lets you grab a unique url that will forward visitors to your survey once they enter the address into their browser.  It also lets you copy an html anchor that can be added to any webpage as a clickable link.


Perhaps you have space on a website where you would like to directly place the survey.  If this is the case, you can copy and paste the embed code into the webpage source.  The survey will then appear seamlessly on the site and allow visitors to access and complete your survey without having to click on a link. For more information on embedding surveys be sure to read the following tutorials:


Similar to the embed method above, you can copy and paste the popup code into a webpage and have the survey appear within a modal dialog.  You can even configure it to open when a particular link is clicked.

For more information on configuring popup surveys, check out the link below:


Send survey invitations by email to a list of recipients with the survey link appended to the message.


Leverage the power of social networks by using Facebook to get responders.  Post a message with an appended survey link to your Facebook wall/stream.


Tweet a survey invitation to your followers to get responses.  The survey link is automatically appended to your tweet.

Another option is to download the PDF to distribute a paper copy.  The only downside is that you’ll have to spend additional time manually transferring the responses from paper to the online survey.

Step 5 – Analyzing Results

Responses are collected and analyzed in real time.  To get an overview of the dissertation’s response collection, click “Analytics” to get to the analytics overview page.  From here, you’ll be able to track response collection over time by using the scalable time-series graph.  If no responders have accessed your survey a message will be displayed prompting you to distribute your survey.

Some of the other useful statistics are displayed below the chart:

  • Unique Visitors – The total number of visitors that have accessed your survey
  • Responders – The total number of visitors that have accessed your survey and submitted responses
  • Completed Surveys – Total number of completed surveys
  • Survey Completion Rate – The ratio of completed surveys to unique visitors
  • Bounces – Number of visitors that didn’t submit any responses
  • Responses – Total number of responses submitted by responders
  • Average Completion Time – Average amount of elapsed time taken to complete survey
  • Days Running – Total number of days your survey has existed

After enough responses have been collected, click “overview->totals” to begin analyzing the survey on a question by question basis.

The totals page presents an interactive grid for each question of the questionnaire and allows columns to be sorted by clicking the headers.  This feature is particularly useful if you want to order questions by response counts and percentages.

Underneath each grid is a set of icons that allow you to export summary results and individual responses in one of several formats:

  • Word
  • CSV
  • PDF
  • Excel

You can also visualize the response data as a set of interactive graphs and then save them as images to add to your dissertation thesis.

Additionally, if you’re working on a project in collaboration with a group of students or teachers and would like to share response data without having to send periodic reports, you can simply invite them to securely view your dissertation survey’s analytics without having to give away your account password, login, and access to other surveys. For more information on analytics sharing be sure to read the following tutorial:

Now that you have your measurements, set about developing your conclusions.  Reinforcing arguments with facts and trends will help strengthen your position.

With the proper tools at your disposal and a bit of determination, you can easily gather & analyze the data you need for your project or dissertation.

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