The Quick Overview:
Where students need to carry out online surveys, and where academic staff do not have a preference as to which tool the students use, we recommend eSurv:
A tutorial video explaining how to use eSurv is also available here:

One area where students sometimes come unstuck with their research projects is when they try to extract data from the free online survey tool they have used. While it is often easy to create a simple online survey for free, and easy for a limited number of respondents to take part in the survey, it is not always so easy for the researcher to access their data.

There are a large number of free online survey tools available for use, and choosing the most appropriate one is not always easy. In almost all cases, accessing the full-functionality of the survey tool is not free. For example, the free version of the survey tool may be limited by number and type of questions available (a maximum of ten questions, for example, and only basic questions). It may also be limited to a maximum number of responses (fifty responses per survey, for example). Another common restriction is to limit access to the survey data, and not to allow the researcher to download the data for analysis in a statistical package. While all these restrictions can be overcome by paying a monthly subscription to the survey tool provider, students often feel rather cheated when they find out that it will cost them, in some cases, £60 to download their data for analysis in SPSS. They often feel especially annoyed when they find out that if they chosen different tool they could have had free access to their data.

As part of a recent University of Northampton URB@N project, Paul Rice, Phil Oakman, Clive Howe and Rob Farmer decided to find out whether there was a genuinely free online survey tool out there somewhere. And they decided to make things more difficult by trying to find one that was also easy to use and that stored data in a way that was compliant with the UK Data Protection Act. The good news is that they found one!

If you would like to find out more then you can read all about it in their paper published in the journal MSOR Connections:


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2 Responses to Which free online survey tool should I tell my students to use?

  1. Alasdair Gordon-Finlayson says:

    Really useful, thanks – hadn’t come across eSurv and will be recommending it to UG & PG students from here on in.

    I have used Bristol Online Surveys in the past which of course we subscribe to for staff members… are there reasons to choose BOS over eSurv or vice versa?

    • Rob Farmer says:

      Hi Alasdair, many thanks for your comments. Yes, eSurv was entirely new to us too – we found it as part of the research process and were pleasantly surprised. I like BOS very much, especially since it was upgraded a year or so ago. Broadly speaking, my personal recommendation would be to use BOS if you have access to it, and to use eSurv if you don’t. With BOS you can export an SPSS file (SAV) directly, so if you know that’s where you want your data to end up then that’s a good reason to go with BOS. eSurv will give you a full CSV though, so you can still get all your data into SPSS, you just need to add a few additional details. I do seem to recall that eSurv had some good question types though, like the drag and drop ranking and the likert scale sliders which BOS didn’t, so if you want a better variety of question types then eSurv might be better. I felt that in eSurv I could create a survey that was a bit more fun for respondents that I could in BOS.