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Google Forms email surveys: Check this box to get more responses

Improve your response rate to short, single-section Google Form surveys by letting people respond without ever leaving email.

Image: GIF created by Andy Wolber

A Google Form can help you gather data in a structured way. Forms supports a variety of question types (i.e., multiple choice, checkboxes, dropdowns, files, short and long answers, linear scales, date, time, and multiple choice grids) that you may ask and structure in sections, with a separate page for each set of questions. And, since Forms supports branching (i.e., conditional logic), you can present different sets of questions to different people.

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When you’re ready to share—or, as Google Forms labels the button, SEND—your form with people, the system offers five routes: Email, a link, an embed code, or via a link shared to either Facebook or Twitter. The two social options provide a draft post with a link to your form, while the link option gives you a URL to copy. The embed option provides HTML code to let you insert your form on the web (as an iframe, with width and height you specify).

Often, though, you’ll want to email your form. To do this, fill in the email address, edit the email subject and message, then select Send. Then wait for responses. The people you sent your survey to will receive an email (Figure A) from you with a button they’ll need to tap (or click) to “FILL OUT FORM.”

Figure A

Screenshot of standard Google Form email, with no questions displayed. Only a button that links to "FILL OUT FORM".

When you send a Google Forms survey by email with system defaults, recipients will receive an email with a link to “FILL OUT FORM.”

Sending a short survey? Include the form.

But there’s one thing you can do to make it even easier for people to respond when you send a Google Form via email: Check the “Include form in email” box (Figure B). When you do that, Forms places your first section of questions directly in the email. 

Figure B

Full screen GIF from a Chromebook that shows cursor selecting the "Include form in email" box then selecting "Send".

Check the box to “Include form in email,” and then select Send.

When a person receives a Form with the questions included, the system lets them enter answers directly within the email—without the need to follow a link to access the form (Figure C). This approach works well when you have forms with one, two, or just a few questions, since you eliminate the need to open a browser and load the form.

Of course, every form that includes questions also offers the option to go to the form on the web. Find the “Have trouble viewing or submitting this form?” text near the top of the received email, then select the button labeled, “FILL OUT IN GOOGLE FORMS.”

Figure C

Screenshot displays a Form, with a single question ("What would you like to drink with lunch?" Options are Water, Iced Tea, Soda, Other.) Button below shows "Submit".

When you include the form in email, the system lets people select and submit responses without the need to open the form in a browser.

When to NOT include the form

However, based on your recipients, your survey length, or your survey content, you might choose not to include your form in email. First, in-email forms only display in email clients that can display HTML content. Second, in-email forms also only display the first section of multi-section surveys. When people complete the first section and select “Continue,” they’ll soon realize the survey may take longer than they expected. In both of these first two cases—when the complete set of survey questions doesn’t display—it makes sense to choose not to include the form in email.

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The most important reason, though, to not include the survey in email is when you want to encourage a thoughtful response (Figure D). People use Google Forms for many purposes that include forms for food preferences, email feedback, customer questions, and strategic planning. A short survey that lets people select from a multiple-choice list (e.g., “What do you want to drink with lunch?” with radio-button choices of water, tea, soda, etc.) takes little time compared with a complex text question (e.g., a survey about the organization’s strategic plan, “List three ways we might improve customer communications next quarter”). Don’t include your form in email when you want people to think carefully before they respond.

Figure D

Screenshot of email from Google Forms, with "Continue" button displayed after a single, free form long text box.

Sometimes you should not include your questions, such as when you have either a long, multi-section form or when you seek a carefully considered response. (Note that, since this example shows a multi-section survey, the button display indicates “Continue” rather than “Submit,” so the responder would need to access the remaining sections of the form in a browser).

What’s your experience?

If you create Google Forms, do you typically include the questions when you send your survey? Why? Or why not? What have response rates been when you include questions vs. when you do not? Let me know what your experience has been with Google Forms, either by adding a comment below or contacting me on Twitter (@awolber). 

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