Forms

Microsoft Forms preview: The ins & outs

Microsoft Forms was formaly introduced via an Office Blog post "Microsoft Forms—a new formative assessment and survey tool in Office 365 Education" and in preview since April 2016 for Office 365 Education subscribers. It allows users to create quizzes, questionnaires, assessments and subscription forms.

The product

Microsoft Forms is a product that specifically targets the education market and allows users to create web based forms in which different types of questions can be created. The tool lends itself to create a pop quiz for a classroom, a questionnaire to gather qualitative information about a topic or a simple subscription form. As said it is specifically targeted towards the education market and therefore only Office 365 Education licensed users will be able to use the product (in preview). Watch the video released by the product group below;

Microsoft aims to deliver an easy and fast solution for teachers to create assesments, which can filled out via all types of browsers on all types of devices. Don't let the simple interface fool you,you do have powerfull options available, such as validation, notification and export to Excel.

Not the new InfoPath

If you are anything like me, your first reaction when hearing that there is something new called Microsoft Forms will most likely to be: “Finally, the replacement product for InfoPath has arrived!”. Well, it has not. Microsoft Forms does not come close to the full suite of options we know from InfoPath. And more importantly, there are no signs whatsoever from Microsoft that it is supposed to replace InfoPath in the future. For that we have to look at Microsoft PowerApps. Microsoft Forms is a product to create assessments, quizes, surveys, etc. Let's show the power of the product by building a little quiz.

Pop quiz!

Let's jump in the product and create a Pop quiz! It'll show off what the poduct is really good at; creating a questionnaire.

The Basics

Microsoft Forms logo
Microsoft Forms logo

So let’s find out what it can do and take a closer look to this new addition in the Office 365 family. First off, Microsoft Forms is a legit product within the Office 365 suite for education licensed users and therefore you start it, like any other product in the suite, from your app launcher.

Launching Microsoft Forms brings you to the My Forms overview, where all your Forms are shown, and a button to start creating a new one. My overview looks like this:

Forms
Forms

When you click the new button you a Form builder is loaded which allows you to enter a title, an introduction text and start adding questions. There are five types of questions that can be added to a Microsoft From.

Forms
Forms

First, we have the “choice” type which allows you to define a question and list a set of options that can be the answer. Unique to this the “choice” type is that you can use the “other” option if you want to provide a way for your form users to answer outside of the given options. This type of question is typically used for general information questions where there is no wrong answer like: “how did you find out this quiz?”.

Forms
Forms

Second, there is the “quiz” type which also works with defined answer options. Unique to this type is that there is actually a correct answer which can be set. Also you can provide feedback for each option to explain why an answer is correct or incorrect. The “quiz” type question is really the one that gives Microsoft Forms its educational flavor, because this is used to verify knowledge instead of gathering information.

Forms
Forms

Third, the “text” type for which the answer is given in a text box. Unique to this type is that there is an option to allow for a long answer, which gives the person taking the quiz a bigger textbox for the answer.

Forms
Forms

Fourth, we have the “rating” type which allows you to answer using a scale. This scale can be set to stars or numbers and can run from 1 to 5 or from 1 to 10. The “rating” question is often used in questionnaire to gather information about how the test subject agrees or disagrees with certain statements.

Forms
Forms

Fifth and last, there is the “date” type question for which the answer is given by selecting a date from the calendar. A date type answer is often seen in subscription or application forms or in questionnaires to ask about someone birthday for example. However, with a little creativity you can work this type of question into a quiz if the answer is a date (perfect for history exams) with is question like: “What was the founding date of Rapid Circle”.

Forms
Forms

Advanced options

For each of the five types of questions you can indicate if a question is required or optional. This is almost common practice with any type of question tool, but since it is such a powerful way to ensure data completeness I did not want to let this go unmentioned.

Also, for all types of questions you have the option to add subtitle. This could be used for providing a hint about the answer or giving guidance about how to answer the question.

“Choice” and “quiz” type question can be turned from single answer questions into multiple answer questions with a flick of a switch. However, the way that Microsoft Forms is letting the user know that multiple answers are possible is very subtle. For single answer questions the option selection boxes are round and for multiple answer questions the option selection boxes are square. So when making a multiple answers question, I would definitely recommend putting something like “(multiple answers possible)” into the question. Otherwise you well surely get complaints from your quiz takers.

Also for “choice” and “quiz” type of questions you can select the setting to shuffle the options. This will present the answers in a different order every time the quiz is loaded, which has several advantages. One, and I know you are thinking the same, it makes it harder to cheat. Two, when looking beyond the possible bad behavior of quiz takers, there has been a lot of research on how the order in which options are presented influences the option that is most likely to be chosen by quiz takers or the most likely to be correct. So if you as a quiz creator want to remove this bias, shuffling the answers is a nice option that helps you.

For the “text” type question, it is possible to provide restrictions. For example that the answer should be a number (nice for math problems) or that the answer should be between two values. All the restriction options are number based restrictions, so they actually help you to turn the “text” type question into a sixth type of question, namely the “number” type.

For the form as whole there are also some additional settings that can be turned on or off. For example, you can choose if you want to apply a deadline or if you want to shuffle the questions.

Forms
Forms

Sending out the Quiz

When you are done creating the quiz there are several ways to send out word about your newly created quiz. Obviously you can share the link by copying and pasting it to a certain location or email the link.

But next to that, Microsoft shows a nice realization of their mobile first strategy by allowing you to create a QR code for your quiz so people can scan it with their smartphone. Of course we did a test among colleagues, and it worked liked a charm. This function is especially interesting when promoting a training or event for which users need to subscribe. On the poster or flyer you can easily include the QR code so people walking by can scan it and immediately subscribe.

The last way to offer your quiz to users is by embedding it onto a webpage. This could be a SharePoint page, but any other webpage will do as well.

Forms
Forms
Forms QR
Forms QR

When spreading the word about your quiz, questionnaire or subscription form you can still control who can fill it. While the options are not very extensive (to say the least) the most important choice is available, which is to allow people outside your organization to fill out the form.

Forms
Forms

Feedback to the User

When someone fills out you Microsoft Form they get a piece of feedback after submitting. Next to the standard messages that thank the user for submitting and verifying that the form was submitted successfully, extra feedback is given when “quiz” type questions are incorporated in your form.

First, as discussed, a “quiz” type question offers the option to provide a comment per answer option which is shown after submitting the form. Second, in the advanced settings you can determine if the user should see the correct answer for a “quiz” type question after submitting. And Third, a user score is calculated based on the amount of “quiz” type questions they have answered correctly.

This last one is a bit tricky because it only looks at the “quiz” type questions in the form. So if you have a form with 8 questions and 4 of them are “quiz” type question, then the maximum score a person can get based on the feedback is 4 out of 4. From a technology point of view it makes sense, because for the “choice”, “text”, “rating” and “date” type questions you cannot indicated what the correct answer is so it just ignores those questions. But from a user experience it is pretty weird if you just answered 8 questions and you see that your score is 3 out of 4. And since there is no option to switch off this feedback about the user’s score, this definitely takes some communication effort to avoid confusion or complaint. So I would advise you to add a note covering this in the description text at the top of the form.

The responses

If you did a good job building and sharing your Microsoft Form, you will have plenty of responses in no time, which are automatically analyzed for you in the responses section of your form. Here you will find some statistics about the form as a whole and more detailed statistics about each individual question.

Forms
Forms

I have to say that the automatic statistics that are generated are quite good and cover the basic requirements around insight in your responses. But before we go into detail, I would like to point you to the “Open in Excel” button at the top right hand side which will allow to completely go berserk in analyzing the responses in your own way.

Forms excel
Forms excel

For “choice” and “quiz” type questions the responses are presented in a table like fashion as well as a chart. For “text” and “date” type questions the number of responses are presented along with the last three responses. And for “rating” type questions the number of responses is shown together with the average rating.

And for each question you have to option to click the “Details” button which shows all the responses for that particular question in a dialog box.

Forms
Forms

Final thoughts on Microsoft Forms preview

Microsoft Forms is a very complete quiz tool that will help you to create quizzes, questionnaires and simple subscription forms in a quick and easy way. Especially for a product which still is in Preview, I have to say that this first version already covers a lot of requirements. However, there are two major points of critique when looking at Microsoft Forms.

First, the name. It is very misleading in the sense that it brings high expectations to anyone who knows about the fact that InfoPath will be leaving us in the future. Because if you review Microsoft Forms Preview from the perspective of it replacing InfoPath, then you will be very disappointed.

Second, the audience. Microsoft offers the Preview exclusively to Office 365 education licensed users, while this product can also be very helpful outside the educational realm. Many corporations, government bodies and non-profit organizations could use this product. Creating a quiz for your internal training programs, making a questionnaire for customer satisfaction research or building subscription forms for an event is daily business for any type of organization and therefore the restriction to only offer this product to the educational market seems like a strange strategy. It even feels unfair for non-education licensed users. Logically, there are many many people lobbying to bring Microsoft Forms to all Office 365 users when it becomes Generally Available and I am one of them.

So Microsoft Forms shows to be a promising tool for creating quizzes, questionnaires and subscription forms. It covers the basics and in 90 percent of cases will do just fine. But it is not the long awaited replacement of InfoPath, so that remains on the wish list, and will live a life in the shadows of the Office 365 suite if it remains to be solely targeted at education licensed users.

FAQ

How can I get Office Forms Preview?

Sign up to gain access to the preview via https://forms.office.com. Unfortunately it's only available right now for Office 365 Education and the US market. If you are outside the US, but do have access to an Office 365 Education tenant. Sign up, but fill out an US address.

Will it only be available for Education tenants?

At the moment it's only available for Education tenants. Microsoft is exploring all posibilities, but has nothing to share about that as of yet.

Will it be available in my region/language?

Yes, Microsoft Forms will be launched for all Office 365 Education regions and languages.

Is this the Infopath replacement?

You might think that when you read the product name, but... No, this isn't even close. Look at Microsoft PowerApps as the Infopath replacement

Is this the final product?

It's in preview with no live date set, so you may expect changes. These can be small and/or large. If you'd like you can contribute via the feedback button when you're using Office Forms or post your ideas and upvote others on the Office 365 uservoice (https://office365.uservoice.com/).

Is there a Microsoft Support article available?

Yes, use your favorite search engine or follow the link: Microsoft Support - What is Microsoft Forms?

The preview is available for US right now. Anything I should be aware of when outside the US, but still apply?

Yes, as it's running for US only right now, all data is stored in the Microsoft Data Centers in the US. So if you're in Europe for instance, the data entered in Microsoft Forms preview will be stored on US servers. This will be until the product becomes available for your region.

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