Questionnaire Design with Limesurvey

This article is about Limesurvey; a free and open-source alternative to the common proprietary survey platforms available online. If you’re looking for a powerful, yet fleixble system to host your online surveys and questionnaire studies, come on in and have a look.

Many people doing research will at some point or other find the need make a questionnaire. Questionnaire design is often an underrated data collection method. That is, many people, experienced researchers and students alike are of the opinion that questionnaires are an easy way to get data. However, a surprisingly large amount of time goes into the design of a good questionnaire. The questions you ask, how you ask them, when you ask them, and who you ask them to all have an effect on the responses.

How you introduce a questionnaire, how it is delivered, what questions came before any other given questions all frame how respondents understand and respond to the questionnaire. Likewise, many of the (free) online tools able to create questionnaires underline how easy and fast it is to design and create questionnaires.  However, I’ve found that many of the free online tools often lack features to make methodical sound questionnaires. In addition, the free online questionnaire platforms often also lacks flexibility.

Overview of Features

LimeSurvey.orgGoogle FormsSurvey MonkeySoGoSurvey
Randomized question and answer orderyesyesyespremium featurepremium feature
Conditional questionsyesyesyespremium feature3 per survey
Random assignment (A/B testing)yesyesnopremium featureno
Number of question types2222101316
Questions per surveyunlimitedunlimitedunlimited10unlimited
Number of respondentsunlimited25 per monthno100 per survey100 per survey, max 200 per year
Support for HTMLyesyesnonoyes
Support for CSSyesyesnonono
Support for JavaScriptyesyesnonono
Support for General Expressionyesyesnonono
Reuse contentquestions, labels,
answer categories,
questions, labels,
answer categories,
(with max 10
premium feature
Template librarynonoyesyesyes
Publication-ready graphicsnonoyesbasicbasic
Export dataCSV / XLS / SPSS / Word / PDFCSV / XLS / SPSS / Word / PDFCSV / XLS / ODS / PDFpremium featurepremium feature

Limesurvey to the Rescue

I’ve also had to do my fair share of questionnaires, either as a secondary data source as part of an experimental setup to collect demographic information on participants, or as a primary source in questionnaire based studies. I have since 2013 (a then graduate student) used a platform called Limesurvey. The platform is extremely flexible, in part because, you can customize any question or field  using HTML, JavaScript and/or regular expressions.

Limesurvey started out as an open-source content management system (CMS), but has since then developed into a corporate enterprise. However, the core software remains free of charge and is still released under the GNU General Public License. That is, you can download the software and install it on either your own webserver or as a hosted service.

What is so good about Limesurvey?

What I really like about Limesurvey is that it is so flexible. You can customize almost every aspect of your questionnaire. Here’s a short list of features that I’ve found useful:

  • Embed Youtube videos (or from other streaming services) or videos stored locally on the webserver.
  • Embed audio clips.
  • Randomize items and question order.
  • Randomly assign respondents to different questions or versions of questions.
  • Base questions on the response of previous questions.
  • Support of HTML and regular expressions on all pages and in all types of questions.
  • Support for many different types of questions
  • Excellent documentation – online manual is here
  • Survey Designs can be created and edited in spreadsheet editors (Excel, LibreOffice Calc, etc.)

What is not so great about Limesurvey?

While I find the system overall to be great, there are a few things you should be aware of:

  • The learning curve is for Limesurvey a bit steeper than other commercial platforms, such as Surveymonkey or Google Form. However, once you do learn it, you’ll have access to as system that on many points is much more flexible.
  • No fancy summaries. Many of the popular online survey platforms have the ability to produce detailed summaries and graphs in publication-ready quality. Limesurvey does not – it gives you the possibility to export the data in various spreadsheet formats, but you have to do the analysis.

How do I get started?

Basically, there are two way to start using Limesurvey. One way is to use Limesurvey’s own webinterface. This is an easy way to get started and see what it’s all about. However, since you’re not in control of the webserver you lose some of the flexibility I was praising before. You also need to pay them a bit of money to invite respondents to your questionnaire. The other thing you can do is to install the Limesurvey CMS on your own or a hosted webserver. Given how cheap hosted webservers are, I really don’t think that the hassle of building your own webserver is worth it. There’s a good guide here that takes you through the process of installing it on a hosted webserver.

If you have questions about Limesurvey or if there’s a particular function you’d like explained, drop a line below!

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