Creating surveys with HTML and PonyExpress is easy, and it is a potentially valuable tool for conducting many types of research. However, you can avoid some pitfalls by keeping these important points in mind when developing your web-based surveys.

Use numerical values

For questions with scales, such as the following, use numerical values whenever possible:

Strongly disagree
Strongly Agree

Assign numerical values to the radio button tags instead of text values. For example, values that look like this:

<input type="radio" name="opinion" value="1">Strongly Disagree
<input type="radio" name="opinion" value="5">Strongly Agree

are much better than:

<input type="radio" name="opinion" value="s-disagree">Strongly Disagree
<input type="radio" name="opinion" value="s-agree">Strongly Agree

When you use numerical values, you can mathematically analyze the results. Computing sums, averages, and percentages is a snap.

Repeat respondents

There is no way to prevent a respondent from completing the survey more than once. With a non-anonymous survey, however, you can tell which results come from repeat respondents because you can associate their identity with the answers. You can choose to honor only their first response, or their most recent response, etc. The policy regarding data from repeat respondents is up to you.

Checkboxes and empty select fields

Avoid allowing respondents to leave blank a series of checkboxes or a select field. If these options are left blank, the data for that particular respondent in your tab-delimited file will be corrupted. A solution to this is to substitute radio buttons for checkboxes. Since one checkbox implies either a yes or no answer, use two radio buttons (one for yes, one for no).

Adding/removing/changing order of form fields

Each time you add, remove, or change the name of a form field you will have to create a new, empty tab-delimited file. Also, if you change the “order” tag, you will have to use a new tab-delimited file. Each line in the file must have data written in the same order.

Make sure that your form_location directory is activated. If it is not, you will not be able to create a tab-delimited file.

Protect the data directory

You can restrict access to the directory where the tab-delimited file is stored if you are collecting sensitive information from your respondents. Use an .htaccess file to do so.