Jisc banner

Online surveys  (formerly BOS)

Powerful, flexible online surveys

Pre-populating questions ADVANCED

There is a known issue with pre-populated question settings. Visit our Known Issues page for more information.

As well as asking respondents to fill in information about themselves you can also pre-populate your survey with information you already have about individuals or groups. This information can be shown to or hidden from respondents when they complete the survey.

Pre-population can be used to, for example:

  • Save respondents’ time by automatically filling in their details for them.
  • Ask respondents to check and, if necessary, amend details you hold about them.
  • Track where respondents have come to your survey from by customising the links you post on different websites, social media sites, etc.
  • Lead respondents straight to the route through your survey that is most relevant to them.

For a more detailed explanation of pre-population, please see our FAQ “What is pre-population?“.

This page explains how to:

  1. Set up the question(s) to be pre-populated.
  2. Pre-populate the answer(s) using survey access control.
  3. Pre-populate the answer(s) without survey access control.

Setting up the question(s) to be pre-populated

First, decide where you will add your pre-populated question(s).

Pre-populated questions can be visible or hidden.  Hidden questions are still numbered.  Placing a hidden question in the middle of a survey will cause a break in question numbering.  If it is necessary to add a hidden question to the middle of your survey, consider turning off question numbering to avoid confusing your respondents.

When you have decided where to add your pre-populated question(s):

  1. In the Survey builder, insert a new question or edit icon Edit an existing one.
  2. Fill in the question text and options as required.
  3. Click Advanced Options to expand.
  4. Scroll down to Pre-population parameter and select the required parameter from the drop-down list.
  5. At Question visibility if answer is pre-populated, choose the desired option:
    • Always show question:  The question and pre-populated answer is always visible to the respondent.  They can change it if they wish.
    • Always hide question:  The question and pre-populated answer is never visible to the respondent.
    • Hide if parameter supplied:  The question is only visible if you have not provided a pre-populated answer to it.
    • Note: If you are allowing respondents to view and print their answers at the end of a survey, pre-populated questions and the associated answers are always visible in the response printout, even if the questions are hidden.
  6. Click Add question or Save (as appropriate).  The question will appear in your survey builder along with information about which parameter is used in the question (highlighted in pink) and the question visibility (highlighted in white).
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 to add more pre-populated questions
  8. Once all your pre-populated questions have been added, check that the pre-population parameters have been set up properly as follows:
    • Click on Distribute.
    • Click on pre-population icon Pre-population parameters in the left-hand menu.
    • Check the table of pre-population parameters and associated questions.  The text in the “Question” column links directly to the relevant question in the survey builder.
    • If you wish to look at a question in more detail, click on the question text to go straight to it.

Pre-populating the answer(s) using survey access control

If you have a list of respondents for your survey, you can provide pre-population information for each respondent within the respondent list:

  1. Create the list of respondents and add the pre-population information into the relevant fields.  Depending on the method you use to create your respondent list, you can either:
    • Type the pre-population information directly into the boxes in the survey access control icon Survey access control screen; or
    • Add the pre-population information to a CSV file and import it.
  2. [Optional] Check the pre-population information to ensure it is correct.
    • Export the respondent list to make it easier to check.
    • Check that the information appears in the correct columns.  For example, if the x1 parameter has been assigned to a question that captures gender information, check that the information contained in the x1 column is gender information.
    • Check that the pre-populated information meets the validation requirements of the question, and check that the capitalisation, spelling and punctuation of the information matches the answer options set up in the survey.
    • If you need to make any changes, please follow the instructions on our Help page on changing respondent details.
  3. [Optional] Preview your survey to test that the questions show/hide appropriately and that respondents can access the survey.
    • Enter one or more username/password combinations from your respondent list into the survey preview to test how the survey looks and behaves for different respondents.

Pre-populating the answer(s) without survey access control

If you are not using survey access control and simply want to group respondents into categories, you can use the built-in URL generator to create customised survey links:

  1. Click on Distribute.
  2. Click on pre-population icon Pre-population parameters in the left-hand menu.
  3. Under Generate public survey URL with pre-population parameters, provide pre-populated answers for each parameterised question in the Parameter value column.  A customised URL will be generated in the Generated URL box.
  4. [Optional] Preview the survey to check that the questions show/hide appropriately and that respondents can access the survey using the customised URL:
    • Click Preview mode URL underneath the Generated URL box.
    • Click open (at Generated URL (open) above the URL box) to open a preview version of the survey that incorporates the pre-populated information you entered in step 3.
    • Ensure you click Public URL again when you have finished previewing.
  5. Ensure that Public URL is selected.
  6. Copy the URL from the Generated URL box and distribute as appropriate.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 to create further customised URLs, if required.