by Kevin Anderson, on October 3, 2012
In the past few years, the use of data journalism has exploded. In the past, it was the domain of specialist investigative teams, but now a much wider range of journalists are using data in their reporting. One of the reasons for this dramatic expansion has been that the tools have become more accessible – they not only cost less, but are also much easier to use. Aron Pilhofer, interactive news editor for the New York Times, conducts a data journalism course, and in one day he says that he can teach 80 percent of the skills necessary required for data journalism projects.
One example of these new low-cost data tools is Google Drive, which provides online data storage and an office suite. For data journalists, Drive includes a spreadsheet application, similar to Microsoft’s Excel. Just like Excel, you can create a form that allows you, your staff or your audience to easily enter data into the spreadsheet.
Crowdsourcing and how news organisations use it
An online form gives you the opportunity to collect information from your audience. You can email the form if you have an email list of loyal members of your audience , or you can simply embed the form into a webpage on your site. It is just one element of a technique called crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a technique where you either use your audience to collect data and information or carry out a task such as analysing large amounts data.
A great, early example of crowdsourcing took place in Bakersfield, California, where the local newspaper allowed people to report potholes in the city. The newspaper created a simple map that showed potholes that had been reported, and ones that had been fixed. It was a simple way to put pressure on the local government to repair the streets.
WNYC, a public radio station in New York, used crowdsourcing to cover how the financial crisis was affecting their audience. The series, Your Uncommon Economic Indicators,was a rich collection of observations, anecdotes and images that helped chronicle the crisis through the eyes of their listeners. To collect this information, they used an online form very similar to the one we will demonstrate below. In a guide to successful crowdsourcing strategies, they gave some suggestions on how best to create your form. One key suggestion is to keep it simple. They said:
Our form takes 30 seconds to fill out. Adding a quick story can be the extent of a contributor’s engagement. If they want to go further, they can add other media, get in contact with the editor, come back to the site repeatedly, etc… But the key is to let people engage at their own level, never set the bar too high, and reward them for any way in which they contribute!
How to create a form using Google Drive
To use Google Drive, you will need to have an existing account with Google. If you already use Gmail, then you can use your Gmail details to sign into Google Drive.
This page shows you all of your Google documents, and the documents shared with you. Google Drive allows you to share your documents with specific colleagues or the general public. Here you can also create new documents. In the upper left hand corner underneath
the Google logo and the Drive name, you will see two red buttons: one labelled “create” and a smaller button next to it with an arrow pointing upwards. Create allows you to create a new text document, spreadsheet, form, drawing or collection (like a folder that you can use to store similar documents).
For this, you want to create a new form. From the Create options, it will be the fourth choice. This will open up a blank form with two sample questions. You can give your form a title, and add some explanation about your survey. The first question will be highlighted in pale yellow. You’ll be able to give the question a title and some help text to guide the person who fills out the survey. Below the “Help Text”, you will see a drop-down menu called Question Type. You can choose from two text options, brief text or paragraph text, and several other options. Both the “multiple choice” and “choose from a list” options will present a number of options from which the user can only select one. The “checkboxes” question type presents several options where multiple can be selected. The “scale” and “grid” options allow people to answer on a scale. For instance, on a scale of 1 to 5 choose a number with 1 being totally dissatisfied and 5 being totally satisfied with the level of service that you received. The scale option is good for creating graphs, charts or maps where the pins are coloured based on the response to the scale. Under each question, you have the option to check a box titled “Make this a required question”. This will require the person taking the survey to answer the question before they are able to submit their answers.
To edit the second sample question, move your mouse over the question, and three icons will appear to the right. The first icon, the pencil, will allow you to edit the question. The second icon will allow you to duplicate the question, and the third, the rubbish bin, will allow you to delete the question. Also notice that when you hover over a question, the cursor changes into a cross. By clicking and holding, you can drag the question to change the order of the questions in the survey. If you want to add a new question, click on the green plus and Add item in the upper right hand corner. This will give you the option to add a new question of one of the types that we have already described. You can also add a section header if you have a longer survey or a page break for your survey.
A few important things to remember:
• If you ask people their location, you will want to ask them to include the city and the region, province or state to be able to accurately map the locations.
• You might want to ask for an email address, mobile phone number or other contact details. If you do, make sure to let people know that you will keep their personal details private.
Distributing or embedding your survey in your site
Once you are done, make sure that your form is saved. Now, you are ready to distribute your form. You might have an email distribution list of loyal audience members to email the form to directly. Another option is to embed the form in a page on your own website. The option to embed is under More actions.
This will bring up a window that will contain the embed code. The only change you will need to make to make sure the embed code is compatible with your site is the width. In the embed code, look for the part that says width=”760″, which is a width of 760 pixels. You can either edit this for the standard width of your stories or simply add “100%” to fill the width of your story column.
iframe src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/embeddedform?formkey=dDMzcG96eVlEd3VVWkV0TlYtVDVCTFE6MQ" frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" width="760" height="603"
When you clicked on the “More actions” button, you will have seen another option, Edit confirmation. This allows you to create a custom confirmation message to display after your readers have submitted their responses. This is important because you want to reward your audience or show your gratitude to them for taking part in your survey.
Once you start taking in submissions, they will appear in a spreadsheet. In the file menu, you will see a number in parentheses by the Form, which relates the number of responses you have.
All of the options you had when you were creating your form are available here. You can edit the form at any time, although once you start distributing your form, it is best not to add or remove questions. You can also send the form to more people via email, see the summary of responses or importantly, stop accepting responses once your survey is over.
One limitation with Google forms is that you cannot prevent people from taking the survey more than once. That being said, a determined person can easily circumvent techniques to prevent people from making multiple submissions to any smiple online poll or survey. However, there are other more sophisticated polling and survey services available such as SurveyMonkey and Polldaddy if this is a critical need.
In the next guides, we’ll show you how to create a map from a survey if you collected location details and how to create charts or graphs from the information you’ve gathered.