Building a survey with the Bristol Online Survey Tool

Getting started

Contact the Information Services eLearning team on to discuss your requirements.
Important Note: This email address should be your first point of contact for all enquiries connected with this tool. Please do not contact BOS directly.
We can then create a login for you to access the administrative area of the tool. This gives you access to a short test survey containing an example of each question type available to you. You can edit and copy this survey as you need.

Who can use the BOS Tool

The BOS service is mainly designed for staff of the University to use.

It can be made available for use by postgraduate students, but they must first discuss it with their Supervisor or course organiser and have their written support for the project.

In some cases we may be able to make it available for undergraduates on a specific course to use the BOS tool. Please contact if you wish your students to use this.

Take a Tour

You may find it useful to follow the Take a tour link from to see the sorts of questions, and the data analysis available.

There is also a growing wiki knowledgebase available from the homepage above, with information and tips on how to use the tool. Again, please note that questions about the availability of options at Edinburgh should be addressed in the first instance to

Tutorials on using BOS

We have created these short animations to help you get started using the Bristol Online Survey Tool at Edinburgh. The Animations have audio descriptions, and you can use the playback controls to pause, start and move through the animation. Alternatively you can download a pdf version.

Introduction to the Bristol Online Survey Tool. A quick introduction to the main features of BOS.
View Animation (5 mins - 4.2Mb) Download pdf (852Kb)

Creating a survey. Formatting and question types.
View Animation (7 mins - 18Mb) Download pdf (1Mb)

Using the software

When you first log in you will see a test survey set up for you. This has examples of the various question types available in the survey tool. We suggest that you familiarise yourself with the software by spending some time exploring the survey by editing it to meet your needs.

Settings for surveys

The Preview Survey button lets you work through the survey as a user.

The Survey Options button allows you to create the settings for the survey such as full title, short title, release dates and numbers of participants. Note that the short title will become part of the url of the survey so it should be short but identifiable and contain only alphanumeric characters.

Please Note It is important that you give all of your surveys - even trial ones - a unique and identifiable name. Surveys called Test or trial are not readily identifiable if you wish the administrators to help with any issues.

By default, the University logo will appear at the top right of all surveys created on our account. You can remove this logo or load an alternative logo or image. Please ensure that these image files are no more than 200kb in size before you try to upload them.

There are also options for showing a page counter, whether questions may be optional or are required, and whether users can return to a survey to complete it later.

Contact for survey queries: It is important to set this to your name, or whoever is in charge of the survey. Select the appropriate name from the drop-down list of University users.

The Sharing option allows you to let others see your survey while it is being built, and/or give access to survey results. By default the survey author and survey tool administrator can see your survey. You can request further logins (e.g. for reviewers) to share access with, so that others can check and comment on your survey before it is released.

The View Results button provides immediate analysis of returns so far, and a number of options for cross-tabulating results. You can export data in a range of formats.

Building and checking a survey

You can create a basic survey very quickly by building on the template of the example survey and adding or deleting sections and questions as you wish.

Note that you should use the example survey you started with for this. The "Shared Surveys" option at the foot of the login page is for those surveys which have beencreated for the entire UK HE community. You can look at and copy these but have only limited editing options.

The survey is not available to anyone without a login until it has been launched. We can create a reviewer login for you to allow colleagues to see and test your survey before it is launched.

Each survey has a specific URL which can be emailed to the sample group, or placed on a web page as a link. If you wish to survey a specific controlled group you may wish to place that link behind some login protection, e.g. placing the link within a WebCT course. The url will take the format:

Note that once a survey has been launched, it cannot be edited. Therefore it is advisable to create a test survey for checking before launching a full survey. Once you are satisfied with the survey, a copy can be made to be launched, and test surveys deleted.

Using languages other than English

The Bristol Online Survey Tool now provides the option of presenting surveys in a number of foreign languages. At present the languages available are French, Italian, Spanish, Gaelic and Welsh. There are plans for additional languages which will be released as they become available. English remains the default language for all surveys.

What this does

All of the built-in buttons and messages within the survey will be presented in the language you have chosen. So, for example, the Continue button becomes Continuer, Continuare, Continuar or Parhau.

Note that the system cannot translate the actual text of your survey: it presents the built-in instructions and automatic messages in the language of your choice.

Screen showing Spanish option

Spanish Language option applied to sample questions: Note that Optional, Select all which apply and the drop-down menu instructions have been translated.

This option not only allows users to create surveys in one of the language options: it gives you the ability to run parallel surveys in different languages and then, provided the surveys are identical in every way except the language, you can compare the data collected across surveys.

To use this option

Select the language you wish to use for the survey from the drop-down menu towards the foot of the Options page.

For further information about this, and other facilities of the Bristol Survey Tool, see the BOS support wiki.

BOS Survey structure

There are some specific points to note about the BOS tool.

You MUST have a first page and a last page, with text but no questions. You can of course use the front page to provide instructions on completing the survey, and the last page to thank the respondents.

The BOS tool provides the option of creating pages, sections, questions, and embedded questions, allowing you to create quite sophisticated structures for your survey. It is always useful to consider this structuring before starting to build a survey. Generally users find it helpful to have similar questions grouped together and to have linked and conditional questions clearly flagged up.

Questions can be moved from place to place within a page, but cannot be moved from one page to another.

You cannot change the question type once selected, so it is useful to consider all the question types available to you and decide which is most appropriate for each question before you begin construction.

Some of the question types (e.g. using notes to place an image in a question) require some knowledge of HTML to set up properly. You should note that images should always be accompanied by "alt" tags and all filenames of whatever format must be entirely lowercase.

Questions may be mandatory or optional: If optional, you can choose to mark them as such on the questionnaire. The user will be unable to move on from one page to another until all mandatory questions have been completed.

You can set the survey so that users can save responses up to a point, and return to complete the survey later. However this MUST be complete pages - part-completed pages which have been submitted cannot be revisited.

Known Issues

The Bristol Online Survey team do their best to respond to requests from their user base, but please channel those requests through the University of Edinburgh's main contact via

Time constraints mean that not all problems and feature requests can be dealt with at once, so we use this section to flag up possible problem areas for users.

Technical details

The Survey tool itself sets no cookies and does not collect any data about the user or the machine they are using. We use the BOS tool secure (https) connection with the Bristol server in order that any personal data you may ask for in your survey is collected and stored securely. This means that some users (depending on their location and the computer used) will be asked to accept a security certificate from the University of Edinburgh before being able to see the survey.This comes up in a pop-up box in the user's browser. If you feel it necessary to provide a warning or instruction on this, you should do so in the message or web page linking to the survey.

As with all internet tools, BOS cannot be guaranteed to function perfectly with every possible combination of hardware and software. Some of the known problems are highlighted in the technical details section of the BOS tour. We would be happy to hear about any other specific problems users may have, and will pass such information on to the BOS team in Bristol.