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What is pre-population?

Pre-population allows you to insert information that you already hold about your respondents into your survey.  This information can be shown to or hidden from respondents when they complete the survey.

What is pre-population used for?

Some examples of the potential uses for pre-population in a survey are:

  1. You are using the same participant feedback survey for a number of training courses.  You pre-populate the course name, trainer name and location information into your survey to reduce the number of questions your respondents have to answer.
  2. You are updating a database.  You want to check that the information you hold in the database is correct.  You create a survey where you pre-populate the information that you want to check and ask your respondents to confirm the information or change it if necessary.
  3. You are running a survey within an institution.  You want to ensure that staff and/or student numbers are recorded against responses, and you do not wish to risk that a respondent will accidentally provide an incorrect number.  You pre-populate this information into the survey and hide it so that respondents cannot change it.
  4. You are making use of the survey invitation email tool and/or the respondent tracking functionality.  It is necessary to capture certain information about your respondents in your survey results to activate these tools.  Pre-population is used to capture this information.

How does pre-populated information get into the survey?

Pre-populated information has to be inserted into your survey as an answer to a question.

If you want to insert pre-populated information into your survey, you assign what is called a pre-population parameter to a question.  The pre-population parameter acts as a placeholder for the information that you wish to insert into your survey. You then provide online surveys with the information for each parameter (i.e. the answers to each pre-populated question), and online surveys inserts the information when your respondents access the survey.

You can provide pre-population information to online surveys in one of two ways:

1.  Pre-populating using survey access control

If you have a list of respondents for your survey, you provide pre-population information for each respondent within the respondent list.  When the respondent accesses the survey, online surveys inserts the pre-populated information from the respondent list into the survey.

This is the most commonly used method for inserting pre-populated information into a survey, and would be the most appropriate method to use for the examples provided above.

2.  Pre-populating without survey access control

If you do not have a list of respondents for your survey, you can use a tool within online surveys to manually generate customised links that contain the pre-population information.  When a respondent clicks on a customised link, the information contained in the link is inserted into the survey.

This method is less commonly used and is best suited to anonymous surveys where you wish to record a few pieces of general information in your responses, e.g. which website(s) a survey link was posted on.

How many pre-population parameters can I use in a survey?

There are fourteen pre-population parameters available on a survey. Four of these (username, password, email and token) are predefined and are used for survey access control purposes. The remaining ten parameters (named x1 – x10) can be used for your own information.

Each pre-population parameter can only be used once in your survey, and each parameter should only relate to one specific piece of information.  For example, if you wish to insert information about the age, gender and ethnicity of your respondents into your survey, you should use three separate parameters.

What are the options for showing and hiding pre-populated questions?

Questions that have pre-population parameters assigned to them can be:

  • always hidden  – the respondent never sees the question or the pre-populated answer;
  • always visible – the respondent always sees the question and the pre-populated answer and is able to change it; or
  • hidden only if the parameter is supplied – the respondent only sees the question if no pre-populated answer is provided.  This allows the respondent to provide the information themselves.

Pre-populated questions are hidden only from the respondent when they are completing the survey. They are not hidden from view in the survey editor, nor are they hidden in the results analysis.

If you allow your respondents to print a copy of their responses, pre-populated questions and the associated answers are always visible in the response printout, even if the questions are hidden.

What types of questions can be used for pre-population, and is one question type better than another?

Pre-population parameters can be assigned to:

  • Free text questions.
  • Date/time questions.
  • Multiple choice (single answer) questions.
  • Selection list questions.

There are several things you should consider when deciding which question type to use for pre-population.

The information that is pre-populated into the survey must be a valid answer to the question that has the parameter applied to it.  If the information is not correct, all affected respondents will be unable to complete the survey.  Therefore, care should be taken when using a question that has any restrictions on the type, length and/or format of answer that it will accept.

Free text questions can be the easiest to use for pre-population because they will accept almost any answer. However, free text results are not displayed in bar/pie charts in your analysis, cannot be used for cross-tabulations and can be difficult to use for filtering.  Free text questions are best suited to pre-population information that is unique to each respondent, e.g. staff or student numbers.

If a date/time question is being used for pre-population, the pre-populated response must be in the date/time format that online surveys considers to be a valid response to the question.

Multiple choice and selection list question results will display as bar and pie charts in the analysis, can be used cross-tabulationsions and allow easier filtering than free text questions.  However, these question types will only accept pre-population information in exactly the same format as the answer options you have set up in the survey (including spelling, punctuation, capitalisation and spacing).  Online surveys cannot guess or choose the closest answer – attempting to pre-populate an answer of “Y” or “N” into a multiple choice question where the answer options are “Yes” and “No” will not work.  These question types are best suited to pre-populated information that is not unique to each respondent and has a limited list of possible choices, e.g. gender or ethnicity.

How do I set up pre-population in my survey?

Please see our tutorial on pre-populating questions which provides step-by-step instructions.