For its student and other surveys, the University of Portsmouth (UoP) uses a variety of tools and research platforms including Bristol Online Surveys (BOS).  In addition to these, more options are being investigated for future use across the university, such as the Qualtrics research platform – currently already used by some departments, e.g., the Department of Psychology. This article will focus on BOS, since it is already used by the university and it gives open access to all UoP staff and students for the time being.

The UoP holds a licence which allows its users to create unlimited numbers of surveys for unlimited respondents. BOS is an online survey tool designed for academic research, education, and public sector organisations. It is an easy-to-use tool for creating online surveys. Run by JISC, BOS is used by over 300 different organisations in the UK and internationally. BOS has the ability for multiple organisations to run the same survey simultaneously and form ‘Benchmarking Groups’ to get answers to common questions or issues (and common surveys). The UoP runs the following national surveys using BOS: the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES); the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES); the JISC Digital Tracker; and the UK Engagement Survey.

BOS has a very comprehensive knowledge base at: A brief summary of the main survey functions as described on the BOS website will be described later (below), with most of the text taken from the aforementioned website. The three main BOS functions are:

  • Distributing a survey
  • Analysing the survey data
  • Creating a new survey

Creating and designing a new survey

There are three ways to create a new survey:

  • Create a new survey from scratch.
  • Create a new survey by copying an existing survey.
  • Create a new survey by importing a survey structure.
  1. Creating a new survey from scratch

To create your new survey:

  1. Click + Create new at the top left of the Dashboard.
  2. Enter a name for your new survey (you can change it later).
  3. Click Create survey.

This will take you straight to the Survey Builder where you can start adding pages to your survey.

2. Creating a new survey by copying an existing survey

To copy a survey:

  1. On your Dashboard , find the survey that you want to copy.
  2. Click on the  Copy survey icon.  This is found at the far right of the Dashboard.
  3. Enter a new survey name (you can change it later).
  4. Click Copy survey.

The new draft survey will appear at the top of your survey list (make sure that you have selected the DRAFT tick box at the top right of the Dashboard ).

To share your survey with another user:

  1. Check that the person that you want to share the survey with has an active BOS user account.
    • You can only share a survey with another BOS user.  If the person you want to share the survey with does not have a BOS user account, they will need to request one from the BOS account administrator at their institution.
  2. On your Dashboard , find the survey that you want to share and click on the   View/Edit survey permissions icon (or, from the Design tab of your survey, click on  Survey permissions in the left-hand menu).
  3. Any users who already have access to the survey are listed in the Survey permissions table, alongside their permission settings. To see your own permissions, click on + Show me at the top of the first column.
  1.    Enter a user’s email address in the search box at the top of the table, and click Add user. (Note that the user has to be registered with this email address in BOS.) The user will be added to the table.
  1. Tick the relevant permission(s) and click Save.

Note: Survey access control settings and survey permissions are not copied along with the survey. You may need to set these up again, if required.

Designing a new survey

To add a new question:

  1. Decide where you want to place your question.  Adding a question into a blue area of the survey builder will add a new, independent question.  Adding a question within another question (inside the brown box surrounding an existing question) will create a sub-question. Sub-questions are useful for following up a question to gather additional information and can be set up to be optional or mandatory depending on the respondent’s first answer.
  2. Click Add item.  This will bring up a list of items that you can add to your survey.
  3. Select the type of question that you want to insert. The question editor will open.
  4. Type in the question text and format it using the tool bar, if required.
  5. Add links, images or embedded media to the question text, if required.
  6. Depending on the question type, you will also be able to add answer options and advanced options below the question text.
  7. Click Add question.

Your question will appear inside a box on the main survey builder page. Here you can:

  • Make changes to it by clicking on the  Edit question icon.
  • Move, copy or delete it by using the Question actions icon.
  • Preview it by clicking on the Preview icon at the top of the page that the question appears on.

An example of a question options follows (multiple line free text question)

Furthermore, there is the option to convert a question into a different question type.

Distributing a survey


The Distribute tab gives you a variety of options regarding: piloting your survey; launching your survey; distributing your survey URL; and the Survey access control.

Piloting your survey

The best way to check a survey before its official launch is to pilot a full version of it. This ‘dry run’ of your survey allows you to test all of its features, including data capture and reporting. It also means reviewers can test your survey without needing access to a BOS account.

Launching your survey

Before you launch a survey, it’s important to make sure that it works properly.

The best way to check these things is to thoroughly pilot your survey. Simple surveys should at least be proofread and tested using the Survey preview.

Certain things cannot be edited once you have launched your survey.  Please ensure that you have checked your survey thoroughly before launching it.

The survey preview allows you to see what your survey will look like, navigate through the survey like a respondent and answer questions without any data being saved. The survey preview also offers the option to print your survey or to save it as a PDF. You can access the survey preview at any point while creating or running your survey.

A variety of distribution options is available and the distribution settings offer flexibility.

Distributing your survey

Once your survey has been launched, you must distribute your survey URL to your respondents so that your respondents are aware that the survey is open and know how to access it.  You can:

Analysing a survey

When it is time to analyse your survey you can to the following:

  • Accessing survey responses
  • Filtering survey responses / Browsing and excluding individual responses  
  •  Exporting response data

Final Remark

Any member of staff or student can ask to have access to the BOS online survey tool by sending an email to More information about BOS can be found here and help articles are available here . BOS is not the only research tool the University of Portsmouth uses, and more research tools are being investigated for future use. Overall, BOS is a useful tool for qualitative and quantitative surveys.


Image credits: Photo by William Iven on Unsplash