Individuals, high schools, small businesses, local governments to fortune 500 companies use survey research to find out what people think and do. The power of survey research is fascinating that we cannot live without it. It reaches to the roots of our evolution, and we have "survey monkey." With a sample of about 1000 likely voters, pollsters can predict the winner of an election always within the margin of sampling error. It is very tough in a close election or highly polarized election. It did not happen exactly in the 2016 presidential election in the US, however, it did not happen in the Literary Digest's poll of the 1936 presidential election as well, which resulted in the magazine's closure. The similarities between these two failures is something to do with the survey sample representation and post stratification weighting. This is something I can explain because that's where my core expertise lies: sampling and data weighting.

Below are some of the survey tools that I have used or had experiences in the past.

I have also included some of the reporting tools I used at the end.


The best. It is the cadillac of survey software. The capabilities of Qualtrics is impressive. For the last eight years we have been using Qualtrics, I have not found any feature, logic that it cannot handle. The capabilities come with a price. For most organizations, such as CSRA I worked, did not have enough budget to purchase Qualtrics. This product has capabilities other than conducting surveys. Its customer care is one of the most responsive.

UCASS (Unit Command and Climate Assessment Survey System)

Since CSRA didn't have any money to buy Qualtrics to launch our online surveys, we reverted to open-source software. University of Connecticut's IT department was skillful enough to customize UCASS cater to our needs. It was implemented and operated at at fraction of a cost of Qualtrics. However, the surveys we conducted were straight forward, meaning, they did not have complex looping, custom fills or conditional statements.

Lime Survey or Php Surveyor

This is also a very popular open-source survey platform. It has the same functionality as UCASS. Both use PhP as the platform. We used Lime Survey at the University of New Haven. Its IT Department customized the software for us based on our requirements.

Survey Monkey

With the purchase of Zoomerang Survey Monkey has become one of the leading economical survey platforms. Survey monkey is very easy to use. It has a lot of capabilities. And it's cost effective. There is a free version available if you want to do an ad hoc survey. The free version has some limitations.

Google Forms

The best thing about Google Forms is, it is free! It has commendable features. As with anything about Google, if you do not own an enterprise version, your data may be used for marketing purposes. We have long become Google's product, not clients. Check whether you can find customer service number for Google. Nevertheless, I am a big fan of Google, a company that had revolutionized the online world. My father's home town is one of the most remote areas in Sri Lanka, and I can freely walk on its streets, though scary, using Google Street view. Google Maps is the best GPS software as long as it doesn't send me to the route with most number of advertisements!

Poll Everywhere

We tested Polls Everywhere when we needed to run a real time survey. The free version they offer limit its capabilities and number of respondents we can contact. The enterprise version is very expensive. We were able to improvise and launch the survey real time by using Qualtrics and Google forms.

Our big boss wanted to divide the division into groups and wanted them to come up with three strategies. Then, the entire division would allocate funds based on the importance of each strategy. First, we gathered the three strategies using Google Forms (we provided Chromebooks and they were also allowed to use cell phones). Once that stage is over, and when each group was presenting their strategies, we loaded the strategies into a Qualtrics survey (this survey had been pre-tested with dummy strategies). Once the survey was launched and data had been gathered, we used Qualtrics reporting feature to show the results in real-time.


SurveyGizmo has more functionality than SurveyMonkey.  It has the ability to have advanced logic, randomization, answer piping, etc.  It is, however, less user friendly than SurveyMonkey, so it’s a trade-off.  Additionally, to be able to get true customization of the look and feel of the survey, knowledge of HTML/CSS is necessary.

Key Survey

This is an integrated survey platform. It has survey building, launching, data collection and analysis all combined in a one suite. This is very easy to use.


This is one of the oldest market research platforms. Their product is more or less overall market research approach, rather than a straight survey software. They are likely to tackle market research issues in a broader perspective in a team environment.


Tableau is the pioneer of the current trend in flashy dashboards. Tableau is a great software, and it is expensive. It can transform the reporting functions of an institution. I have used Tableau to automate course and classroom utilization reports, longitudinal student profile, point-in-time app, admit and enroll dashboards, national student clearinghouse, point-in-time geographical representation of app admit pool, net enrollment deposit tracking, cancellation "melt" tracking. The graphing capabilities of Tableau is the best so as its colors. The downside is, that larger datasets can slow it down. If you want university-wide usage of the dashboards, then, you have to install Tableau server. Each user should have Tableau desktop license to access the server. The server can implement controls on access level of your dashboards. The security is pretty high as well as the price, but it may be worth it. For an example, Tableau can automate IPEDS, US News and CDS reports. As soon as we gather and clean up the census data, Tableau can populate these reports once we have formatted it to do so. When we are comfortable with the quality of the data through rigorous testing, data standard protocols, and training, we can feed Tableau directly from Banner or PeopleSoft.


The top competitor to Tableau is PowerBI. It is less expensive than Tableau. You will pay for what you get. PowerBI is inferior to Tableau's capabilities. We tried PowerBI as a substitute for the Tableau dashboards and discovered its limitations. But, if you don't wish to spend a ton of money on easy-to-do, drag-and-drop, flashy dashboards, then, PowerBI might suit you. The colors are limited; and graphs are mostly standard, but it conveys the message. If you want to incorporate mathematical computations, then, R comes in handy for PowerBI.


SQL (Structured Query Language) is a very old and very fast database management program. It used to be cumbersome in the backdrop of some user friendly intermediary programs and interfaces; however, SQL has come into prominence recently due to the expansion of databases and the concept of "big data." With "big data" some of the user friendly programs have slowed down. Since SQL can access the relational database tables, such as Banner tables, directly, it performs very fast. It reminds me of Assembly programing that can access the registries inside a computer memory--it was super-fast, compared to the next generation of programs. The big data now requires us to be able to access relational databases, join tables with the variable we want, perform computations and extract raw data into SPSS, SAS or R to run analysis. 


SAS is an awesome statistical software. It has the programming side as well as a form side. SAS performs faster in large databases than SPSS, and SAS can handle larger databases. However, its programing is challenging than SPSS. SAS can be used to write a program to populate a predefined form such as Common Data Set (CDS). At CSRA, I used SAS to populate a Washington State website that displayed employee and employer satisfaction rates about the Workforce Investment Act ("WIA") training programs. The WIA project used SPSS to gather and clean data, and SAS to process, and produce the results that fit the Washington website. I have also used SAS for factor and cluster analysis. Since SPSS was so user friendly, and can perform what I needed quickly, I used it more than SAS. For the same reason, in the institutional research and survey research fields, SPSS is more popular than SAS.


SPSS is an exceptional statistical software. It is the best I have used so far--user friendly, easy to learn, fast with straight forward coding. I have used it since 2004 (or version 8). It is versatile, meaning, I used the custom tables to automate the Affirmative Action Plan at the Office of Diversity and Equity at UConn. SPSS slows down a bit to process databases larger than one million rows. It has some issues with reporting errors. Every two years or so IBM releases a new version of SPSS, fixing the errors of the earlier version. In the higher education sector, this is the most popular software for obvious reasons. If I get some time, I am thinking of producing training videos on how to use SPSS. It is also less expensive than SAS.