What's the Difference Between Forms, Surveys, and Polls?

By Matthew Guay

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survey
Quick: Is it a form, a survey, or a poll?

When you're wondering if your customers enjoy new features in your app, are curious about your patrons' eating preferences, or need know how many of your users own an iPhone, where do you start? Should you be using a form, a survey, or a poll?

Great app options exist for each, and frankly they can be interchanged to a certain degree: You can make a poll with a survey app, a survey with a form app, and a simple survey with a poll app (you get the idea).

So, what makes each type of app different, and should you be building a form, survey, or poll to gather the data you need?

Surveys

It all starts with what makes a survey different. A survey is a form with questions specifically designed to gather information about people's experiences, preferences, wants, and needs. Surveys can be long, so a poll is a survey with just one question—a simple survey. And a form could be anything—a survey, a poll, an order form, a quiz, an RSVP sheet, or anything else where you need to gather data.

Form apps are broad. They include features you might need for any type of form. Poll apps are simple. They're designed just to let you ask one question, typically with bullet-point responses.

Survey apps are right in the middle. They're designed to help you ask questions, so they include field formats specifically designed for questions. There are multiple choice questions, sure, but also advanced questions with multiple drop-downs, matrix blocks, and more. Some apps will even include pre-made questions and survey templates to help users get unbiased results. Surveys can include dozens of questions, so your survey app will likely let you break the survey into multiple pages. And, the results pages and dashboards are designed to help you analyze your survey results and understand what your audience is thinking.

If you want to gather data about your customers or opinions from your colleagues, a survey is what you need. When you fill out a census form, or answer questions at a doctor's office about your family's medical history, that's a survey.

Polls

Polls are almost the same, with one caveat: they only include one question. Those tiny blocks at the bottom of sites that ask "Did you find everything you were looking for today?" or the SMS codes on the bottom of receipts that ask you to rate your meal or service quality? Those are polls.

You hear about polls often in the news—especially near election time—but anyone can make a poll just the same as a survey. The only trick is, you can only include one question. Add in anything else, and you've turned your poll into a survey. That's why most poll apps are designed to only let you add one question. They're really, really simple to use.

If you want a simple way to gather data about one thing, you need a poll. You won't get very nuanced answers, or extra data to correlate your answers to other factors, but you will be likely to get a lot of answers simply because a poll is so easy to answer.

Forms

Forms, as you've guess by now, are in many ways the superset of polls and surveys. Both a poll and a survey could be called a form, and you could build either with a form app. Form builder apps are the Swiss Army Knife of data collection tools—they include everything, and can be used for gathering just about any type of data.

You could make a form with just one question, and that'd be a poll. Add in a few more questions, and it'd be a survey. Add in a button to upload a file or a payment field to sell your products, and your creation could now only be called a form.

Form apps are a bit different. They'll include many of the same field options as you'd find in a survey app—multiple choice questions, drop-down fields, and more—but they likely won't include pre-made questions and tools to help you analyze answers. Instead, they'll be focused on helping you gather data. You'll find file upload fields, tools to capture images and drawings, and even payment fields to create order forms. There will likely be more advanced tools to tweak your form and show certain fields dynamically, and if you look hard enough you'll find specialized form apps that are designed for mobile data collection or include tools to help build your own apps.

For the most flexibility in gathering any type of data, you need a form builder. It'll let you make just about anything you want—including a survey or a poll.

Making Your Own Forms, Surveys, and Polls

Now that you know exactly what you need to make, it's time to find the tools you need to make great forms, surveys and more. In the next chapter, you'll find over a dozen of the best tools to make a form—or if you already know you want to make a survey, you can jump ahead to Chapter 6 to find one of the best tools to build a survey.

Go to Chapter 2!

Written by Zapier Marketer Matthew Guay.

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