Forms and SharePoint: Excellent question! 

The new kid in town

There is a brand new feature in Excel which allows you make good looking surveys superfast. And this new addition to your favorite workbook tool is placed front and center in your OneDrive (in my case the OneDrive for Business) and it will appear in your SharePoint document library as soon as you switch to the new look and feel (Read more about the new experience in document libraries here). When selecting new the Excel Survey pops up in the drop down and as soon as you create one, you quickly enter a name for your document and then you are building your survey straight away.

How does it work?

When you create an Excel survey you basically create a workbook and a nice interface for data entry. This was always possible for the Excel experts among us, but it is readily available out of the box to all and way faster than building it yourself in an ordinary workbook. The survey builder lets you pick a title and a description (or delete the placeholder if your survey doesn’t need them) and then you start defining the questions.

Forms and SharePoint: Excel Survey Blog
Forms and SharePoint: Excel Survey Blog

Every question has an additional settings menu where you can define the question, the subtitle, the response type, if it is required or not and a default answer. And off course you will find the add and delete buttons in this panel as you are used from Microsoft. There is no validation (a part from making questions required) and no special formatting or anything, just plain and simple, and above all superfast, survey building. And when I say fast I mean fast. The survey that I show below contains a title, description, five questions and was built in under ten minutes. And that was timed including the time to take screenshots of every step.

Once you are done with building your survey you simply hit the “Save and View” button to get a glance of how the survey will look to the people who you will be asking to take it. And if you like what you see you simply hit the “Share Survey” button and a link is generated that you can send to your audience.

What has happened in the background is that for each question that you created a column was made in your workbook. This is where the response will be stored of the people taking your survey. And the columns have properties that match the kind of questions they are linked to. So a text column is made to store the answers for a test question, a number column is made for a number question and a choice column is made for a choice column. Again, I not saying that this was not possible before in Excel, but this just makes it so much easier.

In light of being totally honest, I will add in the note that Microsoft also includes on their support page, which is that “Columns in the spreadsheet are built as you add questions to the survey form. Changes you make to the survey form are updated in the spreadsheet, unless you delete a question or change the order of questions on the form. You'll have to update the spreadsheet manually in those cases: delete the columns that go with the questions you deleted, or cut and paste columns to change their order.” (from: Office Support)

Why should I use Excel surveys?

For me this new feature really shows that Microsoft has a sense of what their customers are doing with their product. Because as stated earlier, building surveys in Excel has been done before. And also for other survey tools that Microsoft brought to life, for example the SharePoint Survey App, the data is stored in a list and usually analyzed in Excel. So building a survey feature into the product of Excel makes sense.

And there are some additional benefits next to the fact that your survey building time will become far shorter with this new feature. First, as explained, you only share a link with your audience. This means that you do not have to give the people who fill out the survey, access to the data in the workbook. This separation of data entry and data storage fits the security driven world we act in today. Second, since you share a link to a webpage with your audience, the survey is easily accessible from any device (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile, etc.) as long as you have a browser and an internet connection. A colleague of mine opened the email I sent out on his phone and could fill in the survey straight away.

If have to put the excel survey in line with the other survey tools that Microsoft offers, I would put it as an equal weight and possible replacement of the SharePoint survey app. For the quick and dirty poll, you can use a third party poll app or even the Outlook voting buttons and for the structured business processes you can use InfoPath forms or a third party form builder like Nintex. But Excel surveys fits nicely in between to fit scenarios where you do have multiple questions to ask but it is an ad hoc or onetime thing that doesn’t need or justify developing a custom form.

This blog post is part of the series Forms and SharePoint. More on this Topic can be found HERE