The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Administrative Angles 

Improving Participants' Experience in the Online Survey Process

Luanne Billingsley, DNP, MBA, RN-BC, APRN, ACNS-BC; Kristie Riddle, PhD, RN


Health care professionals frequently participate in surveys. Increased technology supports low-budget online surveys as a common method for collecting information. Decreased interaction with the surveyor, a lack of trust in the survey process, and time constraints often reduce response rates. Improved communication and shared results can positively influence the participants' experience. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2019;50(10):439–441].


Health care professionals frequently participate in surveys. Increased technology supports low-budget online surveys as a common method for collecting information. Decreased interaction with the surveyor, a lack of trust in the survey process, and time constraints often reduce response rates. Improved communication and shared results can positively influence the participants' experience. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2019;50(10):439–441].

The Internet has made the survey process easier, better, faster, and cheaper than other traditional and more costly methods, such as postal, pen and paper, telephone, or in person. In the pursuit of learning and development and performance improvement, health care professionals are frequently asked to complete self-administered surveys and questionnaires to share their expertise, current practices, opinions, or changes in behavior. These survey results provide information to stakeholders to make decisions about programs, projects, people, and initiatives (Phillips, Aaron, & Phillips, 2013).

Online surveys remain a useful way of collecting information from targeted audiences. A survey design should be simple, be professional, involve management at the local level, build on earlier data if appropriate, be pilot tested, recognize the expertise of participants, and consider the use of incentives (Phillips et al., 2013). However, many surveyors never follow up or attempt to share the outcomes with respondents. Also, failure to widely disseminate results among key decision makers further limits the usefulness of the survey. This practice has caused many individuals to view the use of surveys negatively.

The use of a free or minimal cost online survey along with Google App tools to collect and share information in practice and academic settings can be effective. Examples of online survey tools are shared in Table 1.

Online Survey Tools

Table 1:

Online Survey Tools

According to Phillips et al. (2013), surveys can be used to measure:

  • Employee attitudes.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Employee use of training.
  • Student performance.
  • Quality of facilitation.
  • Audience opinions.
  • Program outcomes.

A common use of surveys in the health care system and clinical setting is to assess current practice patterns, which may not always reflect the best evidence. Deviations from the best evidence can result in poor patient outcomes and higher costs. Surveys can also be used to capture attitudes, barriers, and needs.

There are many valid and reliable questionnaires linked to existing professional standards of care or other indexes. However, the surveyor may decide to design their own. Wang et al. (2018) sought to gain feedback from participants about current continuing nursing education (CNE) among nurses in Beijing (3,278 nurses) in a cross-sectional study. The researchers designed a survey to understand the attitudes and expectations of hospital nurses concerning current CNE in Beijing. The results shared that 2,826 respondents (an 86.2% response rate) reported a positive attitude about current CNE programs. However, the survey also revealed opportunities for improvement, including several barriers and needs concerning CNE that should be addressed at the organizational level. Also, from the survey feedback, four recommendations were made to the Beijing Nurse Association that may lead to nationwide reforms. These results were disseminated through publication and recommendations giving a more significant voice to the survey participants.

To mitigate the limitations in the online survey process such as the lack of contact with the surveyor, it is essential to have a well-designed questionnaire. Wording, options, and design shape the answers. Consider the questionnaire as a conversation with the participant. Additional websites are available to assist in the design of questionnaires (Table 2).

Online Survey Design Resources

Table 2:

Online Survey Design Resources

In addition to clinical practice, online surveys are used successfully in the academic setting. Undergraduate and graduate nursing students often participate in surveys to evaluate courses and instructors. Graduate students may also use an online survey design in mentored projects implemented in the clinical setting as a part of coursework requirements.

In a multisemester study, a survey tool was developed and used with undergraduate students in peer-to-peer and team evaluation. Although students are often uncomfortable critiquing peers, this confidential online survey process captured feedback that demonstrated an understanding of debate topics, new learned knowledge, and changed attitudes (Table 3). Evaluating and modifying the questionnaire postpilot recognized the need for additional data to be collected to demonstrate improved critical thinking and communication skills among the participants. Students shared that the process was easy to use. They enjoyed seeing the timely peer feedback provided through graphs and comments. When students engage in the evaluation process, they may be more satisfied with their academic achievement (Billingsley, Riddle, & Marino, 2019).


Table 3:


We have all been asked to take part in an online survey at some time. If conducted properly, surveys can provide a viable option to secure meaningful data from busy providers, staff, and students. Surveys are easy to create and modify, and online surveys are user friendly. Additionally, when results are shared with participants, they may be more satisfied with any subsequent changes.

Implications for Nursing Professional Development

It is important to remember that survey data are self-reported and may not accurately reflect the respondent's opinions or differences from the current standard of care. To improve participant satisfaction in the online survey process and survey results (a) consider whether there is a genuine need for the information; (b) understand any accessibility challenges that participants may encounter; (c) use techniques to establish trust among survey participants, such as being present locally when possible and maintaining confidentiality; (d) use a well-designed questionnaire; and (e) plan to disseminate results with key stakeholders, including respondents.


  • Billingsley, L., Riddle, K. & Marino, K. (2019, June). How can an online survey tool used with undergraduate nursing students in peer-to-peer and team evaluation impact student learning? Paper presented at the Teaching Professor Conference. , New Orleans, LA. .
  • Mathers, N., Fox, N. & Hunn, A. (2007). Surveys and questionnaires. Retrieved from
  • Phillips, P.P., Aaron, B.C. & Phillips, J.J. (2013). Survey basics. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training & Development.
  • Wang, Y., Sun, L., Greene, B., Sun, H., Ding, Y. & Li, C. (2018). Current continuing nursing education among Beijing nurses: A cross-sectional study. The Journal for Continuing Education in Nursing, 49, 526–536. doi:10.3928/00220124-20181017-10 [CrossRef]

Online Survey Tools

Google Forms

Online Survey Design Resources

Question Pro® Survey Design: How to design a survey that people will love to answer?
Science Buddies®: How to design a survey.


SurveyA survey is defined as the evaluation of experiences or opinions of a group of people via questions.
QuestionnaireA questionnaire is defined as a collection of written or printed questions with an answer choice, created to conduct a survey. A questionnaire can stand alone (
Anonymous surveyAn anonymous survey is one in which respondents are not allocated identification numbers and cannot be identified in any way. Sometimes very sensitive topics require anonymous rather than confidential surveys.
Confidential surveyA confidential survey is one in which the respondents cannot be identified except with a unique identification number used to link responses back to an individual.

Dr. Billingsley is Associate Professor, and Dr. Riddle is an Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

The authors thank Ms. Kristin Marino, MSN, RN, CPNP, Instructor, Southeastern Louisiana University, School of Nursing, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for her support of online surveys in the classroom.

Address correspondence to Luanne Billingsley, DNP, MBA, RN-BC, APRN, ACNS-BC, Associate Professor, School of Nursing, Southeastern Louisiana University, SLU 10835, Hammond, LA 70402; e-mail:


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