Online polls provide quick and easy ways to invite audience engagement in stories. The only problem is that few polling tools are ideal; either they lack flexibility, or they just don’t look very nice.
Take PollDaddy. It’s great at polls, but you’re only allowed one question per poll (a survey allows more questions, but displaying the results isn’t as nice). You also need a corporate account to get a lot of the options that make it attractive, and not all publications have the budget for it.
Google Forms also allows multiple-question polling, but once again the charts of results aren’t exactly eye-catching.
However, when combined with other charting tools, Google Forms help you create more visually appealing graphs. It requires a bit more work, and you’ll have to embed two separate tools that may not look harmonious, but hey, we’re talking free and easy here.
I use Infoactive.co, a Montreal-based service that offers an infographic-creation app that presents data in visually interesting ways. The software is still in beta, and it may have a few quirks and bugs, but for the most part, it works nicely and the results look good. It offers a few ways of presenting and filtering data, which most all-in-one polls do not. Here it is in action, showing public sentiment regarding the Quebec Charter of Values.
To create interactive charts like these, you will need Google and Infoactive accounts.
We’ll create our poll in Google Forms and import the data into Infoactive. Infoactive will continuously read the data created by the poll and update the charts with the result.
However, the charts will not update dynamically after a new user submits an answer. To see the updated results, visitors will have to refresh their browsers.
Did I say this is a free and easy solution?
1. Create a Google Form
In your Google Drive, click on “Create” and choose “Form.” Select a design theme for it, give it a name, and click “OK.”
You’ll be given an untitled form with a multiple choice question ready to be created. Give it a proper title and description (brief instructions are helpful).
Now create your questions. Fill in the “Question Title” field and the optional “Help Text” if the question needs some description. Leave the “Question Type” as multiple choice. Then populate it with the possible answers. Each time you click on the bottom-most box, it creates a new question. If the question is mandatory, check the “Required question” box.
If you only have one question, click “Done.” Otherwise, click “Add item” to add another multiple choice question. Repeat until you’re done.
Finally, set up the confirmation message at the bottom. I usually leave all boxes unchecked. I don’t want people to submit multiple responses, and I don’t want a link to results. We’re showing the results ourselves, remember?
Click on the blue “Send form” button, and then “Embed.” Specify the width and height of the embed, copy the embed code, and save it for later.
2. Set up the spreadsheet with the responses.
When you’re done writing your questions, click the button on the grey toolbar called “Choose response destination.” Click “New spreadsheet” and give it a helpful name, like “Poll responses.” This will create a new spreadsheet in your Google Drive.
Open it and you’ll see that there’s a timestamp column and a column for each question you set up. Every time someone submits a form, a new row is added.
You’ll need to make this spreadsheet public. Click on the big blue “Share” button on the top right and change the access to “Public on the web.” Copy the URL for it.
3. Create your charts in Infoactive
Go to Infoactive.co and login. Create a new infographic. On the left menu, click on Data and paste in your Google Spreadsheet URL. It will load your data. You’ll need at least one row of data for it to work. So you might want to have some people take the poll before importing the spreadsheet.
Now let’s make some charts. Click the “Charts” button and a gallery of charts will appear. For polls, pie charts, donut charts or horizontal columns work best. Click and drag a chart onto your canvas.
You’ll have to tell the chart which question of your poll to show. Hover over the chart on your canvas and you’ll see a little pencil icon. Click it and open the “Edit chart” menu. Leave “dataset” and “value” alone, but click on “slices.” You can now choose which column to display. Infoactive will create a pie slice (or bar) for each.
Repeat for each question in your form. Once you’re done, you can customize the look of your charts in the “Style” button or add a title and paragraphs of text with the “Text” button. You can also resize your charts.
4. Embed your form and charts
Infoactive will continuously read your Google Spreadsheet, so your charts will be updated with each new answer. You can now publish your work.
In your CMS, paste the embed code from your Google Form that you copied earlier. Go back to Infoactive and click the “Publish” button. You’ll be given a few embedding options. Pick the size that best fits your website and copy that embed code. Paste it beneath the Google Form code.
That’s it, you’re done!
Roberto Rocha is the interactive editor of the Montreal Gazette, one of Canada’s oldest newspapers. He also likes to call himself a data journalist, hoping one day it will stick. Contact him at RRocha@montrealgazette.com.