Guide to converting documents into online surveys

A common experience for many users is having to create an online survey or other engagement activity based around a lengthy document, generally in Microsoft Word format. This presents several difficulties - it is not always straightforward to translate the document into an easy-to-answer online survey whilst staying faithful to the original format. This is particularly the case if you want the questions to appear in the the body of the document, rather than gathered after it.

In order to turn documents accurately into good online surveys, we need to be a little bit creative and flexible. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you with the process:

Embedding documents

How do I embed documents into my survey?

A really handy feature when turning a document into an online activity is embedding. This allows you to build the original document into the body of your online survey, either as a normal part of the survey or in a fact bank. It's a good way of giving people easy reference to the document, allowing them to scroll through and read the details without having to navigate away from the online survey.

Making good use of fact banks and the additional text answer component

You can add contextual, interesting and helpful information at the top of each page of your survey by using the page introduction or fact bank text boxes - these appear as soon as you add a new page. Using these adds information to the top of your page, above your questions, but it is also possible to add contextual information as additional text or in fact banks further down within the question section too. These are available as 'additional information' options within the answer components to your question and can help your to target where you add helpful text, images etc. so it doesn't all have to go at the top of your page.

Fact banks are a useful tool that let you tuck information away behind a tab. You can also build fact banks into questions in an online survey, making them particularly handy if there is a chunk of information (ie. a section of your document) that would be useful for respondents to refer to when they are answering the question. You can combine Fact Banks with the document embedder to create a concealed document - if you are able to split your pdf file up into several chunks, it can be useful to put these into individual fact banks for respondents' easy reference. Find out more about fact banks.

Additional text allows you to add in contextual information, guidance, images, videos, PDFs and other rich text within question sections and helps you to layer up answer components. If you ever think to yourself 'it'd be great if I could add an image in to this question' or 'I could really do with adding in more of an explanation here (within the question area)' then this is the component for you. Here is an example of what this could look like - the image has been added using an 'additional text' answer component:

Q: When should I use a fact bank rather than adding 'additional text' to a question or putting information into the page intro?

Use fact banks rather than 'additional text' when you have some respondents who may be familiar with the information already. A fact bank will hide the information from those who already know it (avoiding them having to scroll through it, or you being accused of teaching anyone to suck eggs), whilst making sure the additional information is there for those respondents who need to refer to it.

Pasting from word

Rather than inserting your document into the activity as a PDF, you may prefer to paste individual passages and pages into your activity. 

There are plenty of places in the online survey to put this kind of content: on the overview page, on survey page descriptions, in fact banks, and in text boxes or fact banks as answer components to questions - wherever you see the text editor bar in fact.

The problems that come when Word talks to websites:

It is worth being aware that there are some issues that can arise when trying to paste content from Word documents into Citizen Space (or any website in fact):


Tables often do not copy across correctly to Citizen Space. This, along with other issues, is related to differences in the way that web browsers and Word format data. You may find that your table copies across perfectly fine, but often it may look different, column sizes changed etc. Please also bear in mind that a table pasted from Word may look fine in your web browser, but not in a different/older browser - try testing how your survey looks on different browsers if possible.

The one thing pasting from Word will not be able to do is to carry across any styling you have put on the table, e.g. colours for individual cells. We recommend using the embed tables functionality in our text editor bar.


Footnote functionality only works on certain activity pages in Citizen Space.

Learn more about creating anchors (footnotes) in Citizen Space.


Why isn't the WYSIWYG toolbar available on the questions themselves?

This is to do with the results exports that Citizen Space produces. The crux of the issue is that to support formatting, and specifically line breaks in questions, we would need to support having HTML in question titles. Currently we can't, as if we did that, we would also have to be able to cleverly strip away the html too, so that it could work with .xlsx exports, the filters in reporting, and other places in the app. This HTML formatting and stripping would have to be restricted, as these questions also have to look ok on a single line, so things like lists are something we can't do.

The way to manage this is to use a concise question title or statement in the question text box itself, followed by an Additional Text answer component to add extra context. If this is an absolute no-no as well, then you could go to town with a custom header, which overwrites the question text entirely, as mentioned in the article above. 

How do I put contextual text, images or words between answer components in single question?

Use the 'additional text' answer component, this will give you the option of adding a text section to a question, which you can use to put in nice images, videos, pdf embeds and rich text between or above other answer components.

Can I put my survey in chapter format?

Yes you can, you need to make your survey non-linear which will give it a table of contents and the ability to put in a rich introduction to this contents page as well - this article on the difference between linear and non-linear surveys may help.