A video tutorial accompanying this article is available for ABA members.
The November 2010 YourABA article “Power your practice with free tools from Google” describes an attorney who used a Google Docs web form as an online questionnaire to gather information from potential plaintiffs of a class action lawsuit. While Google Docs is best known as an online space where users can create and share documents, survey creation is a lesser-known yet useful feature.
Google Docs is an alternative to applying HTML code or using other tools such as Microsoft Word forms to create surveys. Google Docs also allows users to manage the collected data. The information users enter into a Google Docs form is automatically transferred to a Google Docs spreadsheet that can be accessed in Google Docs or exported to Excel.
A quick note about security: in March 2010, a Google Docs security flaw caused some users' data (estimated at .05 percent of all Google Docs documents) to be shared without permission with other users on the system. When using cloud-based technologies such as Google Docs, lawyers should be knowledgeable about security issues and take reasonable precautions to protect their data. See the articles FYI: Software as a Service (SaaS) for Lawyers and Cloud caution: Look before you leap for more on security and ethical issues.
Some paid online questionnaire software such as SurveyMonkey can provide more security and feature options. For example, Google Docs provides only one link to the questionnaire, and there are no built-in mechanisms to control who accesses the form or limitations on people completing the survey more than once.
Below are instructions for creating a Google Docs survey, using the creation of a law firm client satisfaction survey to illustrate the steps.
Step one is to sign into Google Docs using a free or fee-based Google Apps account. Then click on the "Create new" menu button at the top left of the screen and select the "Form" option. The "Edit Form" window should appear. Enter the title of your survey in the first field (e.g., "[Your Law Firm] Client Satisfaction Survey") and provide an introductory message in the second field.
In the "Question Title" field, type your first question (e.g., "What is your name?”). The next "Help Text" field is optional to complete, and is designed for you to enter any instructions you think would aid users in answering the question (e.g., “Please include your first and last name”). Click on the "Make this a required question" checkbox if you want to ensure a response. Users will not be able to submit the form until all required questions are answered.
To add a new question, click on the "Add Item" button at the top of the screen and select the desired type of question. Users can create “text” questions (requiring a short written answer), “paragraph text” questions (requiring a longer written answer), “multiple choice” questions (requiring the selection of an answer among a row of choices), “checkboxes” questions (requiring answers in checkbox form), “choose from among a list” questions (requiring the selection of an answer among a list of possibilities), “scale” questions (requiring an answer within a pre-determined scale of possibilities), and “grid” questions (requiring answers to related individual questions on a pre-determined scale of possibilities).
In creating a satisfaction survey, grid-type questions are ideal for determining levels of satisfaction with a variety of different law firm services. Add a grid question from the Add Item menu, then type "How satisfied are you?" in the Question Title field. Next, choose the number of columns that will represent the levels of satisfaction. In this case, select “4,” then enter the satisfaction levels in boxes provided. Fill in “Very Satisfied” in the field for “Column 1 Title.” Add the other satisfaction levels— "Somewhat Satisfied," "Not Very Satisfied" and "Not at all Satisfied"—in the next three “Column Title” fields.
The “Row” fields will list those service areas that respondents will evaluate. In this example, in the “Row 1 label” field, type “Quality of our work.” To add other areas of evaluation, add another Row by clicking on “Click to add option.” Other Row labels may include “Responsiveness to your communications" and "Understanding your business and your needs."
In creating a multiple choice question, select “multiple choice” under Add Item. Type your question in the Question Title field, then use the “Option” fields to add the list of possible responses. For instance, for the question, "Would you recommend our law firm's services to your friends, family, colleagues, or others?" type "Yes" in the Option 1 field, then click on "Click to add option" to add another response choice. Type "No" in the Option 2 field. You could follow this question with a text-type question such as, "If yes, who?"
To edit a question, click on the pencil graphic, and to delete a question, click on the trash can icon.
Once you are done creating your survey, click on the "More actions" button, select "Embed," and use the provided HTML code to embed it in a webpage .
To e-mail the survey to respondents, click on the "E-mail this form" button and enter the e-mail addresses to which you wish to send the survey.
Accessing respondents’ data can be done in the following manner. Click on "Summary" under the "See Responses" menu for a summary of the responses with accompanying graphs. To see the responses in a Google Docs spreadsheet, click on "Spreadsheet.” Once you are using the Google Docs spreadsheet interface, click on the "Form" menu button to access a variety of options for alteration. To export the data to Excel, click on the "File" menu button, then select "Download as," and then select "Excel" or "CSV."
Other functions include adding section headers and page breaks to edit the organization and layout of forms, using the "Go to page based on answer" feature to enable conditional branching based on users' answers to multiple choice questions, and adding notification rules, which can be set to send you an e-mail when certain conditions occur, such as when a respondent has submitted a completed form.
This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members. Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.