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Online surveys  (formerly BOS)

Powerful, flexible online surveys

Free text questions

Free text questions are typically used to allow respondents to give information, such as their name or email address. They can also be used to ask for people’s opinions, or to provide them with the opportunity to explain a previous answer. However, before allowing respondents to enter large amounts of text, think about how you will analyse and evaluate the responses.

There are two types of free text question:

  • For short answers, use a Single-line free text question.
  • For longer answers, use a Multi-line free text question, which you can set to the size required.

To create a free text question:

  1. In the survey builder icon Survey builder, decide where you want to place your question and click Add item.
  2. Select single-line text question icon Single-line or multi-line text question icon Multi-line free text question. The question editor will open.
  3. Enter your question into the Question text box. You can also add formatting and hyperlinks.
  4. Set up any advanced options, if required.
  5. Click Add question.

Your question will appear inside a box on the main survey builder page.  If you want to make any changes to it, click on the edit icon Edit question icon. You can preview it by clicking on the preview icon Preview icon at the top of the page it appears on. To move, copy, delete or convert it, click on the action icon Question actions icon.

Optional settings and advanced options

There are a number of settings that you can apply to free text questions, including:

  • Make this question optional/required: Optional questions can be skipped by respondents; setting a question to ‘required’ means an answer has to be entered to allow the respondent to continue on to the next survey page.
  • Show optionality: Ticking this box displays the word “Optional” or “Required” (as appropriate) next to the question text.
  • Restrict the type of answer that can be given: This allows you to specify the type of format that an answer can take, such as: email address, IP address, ISBN, case insensitive letters, case sensitive letters, number, integer, decimal number, phone number, UK postcode, web address. If an answer doesn’t meet the criteria you have set, a validation message will be displayed asking respondents to re-enter their answer.
    If you restrict answers to numerical values, you can also set an upper and/or lower limit in the Range boxes below.
  • Size of input box (single-line) or Height/width of input box (multi-line): These options allow you to set the size of the box that will be displayed to respondents. For single-line answers you can specify the length in characters (the default is 35); for multiple-line answers, you can set the width and height of the box in characters (the default is 3 rows of 35 characters each). Respondents will not be prevented from giving a longer answer unless a maximum character limit is also set (see below); the size of the box will merely suggest the appropriate length of answer expected.
  • Maximum number of characters that can be entered: Setting a maximum will force respondents to limit their response to the maximum number of characters.
  • Show validation: This option displays a message to the respondent which sets out the validation requirements specified by you, including the type of answer required and the maximum number of characters that can be entered. This is set to be shown by default.
  • Initial value: the answer that will be displayed by default.
  • More info: Use this text box to add an explanation or further information to your questions. This text will not be displayed by default to respondents, but will be shown to them if they click on more info icon More info. If you wish additional information to be visible by default, use the survey builder to add a note to the question instead.
  • Alternative question text for use in exports: If your question text is long, you can enter a shorter version here which you can choose to use instead of the full question text if you export your results data. This alternative text will not be visible to respondents.  This field is also used to apply a piping source label to the question.
  • Pre-population parameter: Pre-populate this question with information you already know about individual or groups of respondents.
  • Question visibility if answer is pre-populated: Use this setting to display or hide the pre-populated question.