Feature of the month: Preloading respondent data

Preloading data into your survey enables you to include previously known data in the same reports as the data you are collecting with your survey. Furthermore, it allows you to personalize your email invitation or survey by piping in your previously known respondent information (name, date, company, etc.) where relevant. Personalizing surveys and email invites creates a stronger connection with respondents, leading to higher response rates.

Typically, running a survey involves sending a blank questionnaire to a recipient who fills in the answers to questions. However, there are several cases when it is useful to enter some of the answer data in advance. Preloading allows you to do this. For example:

  • You already have information about the user on file, and you want the user to verify or update this data.
  • You wish to associate identifying information (such as employee number or sales region) with survey recipients "behind the scenes."
  • You wish to personalize email invitations with external data, such as customer name.

Data can be preloaded into any response type available in InstantSurvey, including special hidden text fields for "behind-the-scenes" data.

Note: In order to filter reports by this data, it must be preloaded into a choice-based field (such as radio buttons, checkboxes or a hidden choice field) rather than an open-text field.

Preparing Data to be Preloaded

The data must meet the following requirements:

  • InstantSurvey requires that preloaded data be uploaded in CSV (comma-separated value) format, which is easily exported from Microsoft Excel.
  • If you are preloading international characters, you must make sure that your CSV file is encoded in UTF-8 or Unicode format.
  • One of the columns of this file must contain the email addresses used to identify survey recipients. This column will be used as the list of respondents for your distribution.
  • Multiple checkbox choices can be either packed into one column (separated by a different delimiting character than is used to delimit columns to data) or in separate columns. In either case, "1" or "Yes" indicates that the choice is selected, and "0", "No" or any other value indicates that the choice is not selected.
  • Answers to choice responses (i.e., radio buttons, checkboxes, select lists) must be preloaded as their numeric equivalents, not as the text or label that appears in the survey. By default, choice lists are numbered sequentially from top to bottom starting from 1, but these values can be customized when you create your survey. For example, the default numeric equivalents for the following three-choice list are:

Choices that user sees
Numeric Equivalent

Note: It is not necessary for all columns of your data to be preloaded into your survey. If your file contains extra columns, they do not need to be deleted, but they may increase uploading time. depending on how large your file is.


Mail-merge is the process of inserting special codes into an email message that are automatically replaced with personalized text as each email message is generated. Mail-merge fields can be inserted into either the body or subject of your messages.

A list of available mail-merge content appears in the Advanced Text Editor for invitations and reminders. Three types of codes are available for insertion:

  • Macros: Distribution information such as unique Take or Unsubscribe URLs.
  • Answers: All the answers in your survey. If you have preloaded data into the responses of your survey, you can insert them here. Referencing the survey responses instead of the preloaded columns ensures that the data will be available for insertion into later messages, such as reminders or re-sent invitations.
  • Preloads: Appears only if you have added respondents via preloading. Any imported columns can be inserted into the invitation, but this data is only available during the initial distribution.

Reporting Issues

Note that preloaded data will appear in reports as soon as your distribution starts, even for users who have not yet responded to the survey. If you want to exclude that data, you can create a dataset that filters out any respondents with an empty Take Start Time, i.e. display only answers for respondents who have actually started taking the survey.

Preloading Addresses and Data

Preloading is conducted during the distribution process at the "Add Respondents" step of the distribution wizard (or when adding new respondents to an existing distribution). Select the Preload Addresses and Data option in the Add Respondents step of the distribution wizard. This opens a new browser window.

Choose this option if you want to upload additional data along with each respondent address. You will be prompted to upload a CSV file containing this data and map each column of the data to survey fields.

To preload data

Select Survey and Begin Distribution

1. Select Distribute a Survey from the Distribute tab. The Distributions page opens.
2. Use the radio buttons to select the survey you wish to distribute. Click Distribute Survey.
3. Select Email Targeted on the Distribution Method page. The Add distribution Title and Name page opens.
4. Select a name and title for the distribution. Click next. Enter information on the Date Information page. Click next. The Add Respondents page opens.
5. Use the radio button to select Preload Addresses and Data. Click next. The provide CSV File pane opens.

Provide CSV File

6. Click Browse to find an existing CSV file. When creating a CSV file, put the email addresses in Excel (or other spreadsheet program, and save as a CSV file.

File CSV Options

7. Select from the following:

  • Fields Delimiter: Use this function to select how to separate the values in the file. Default is the comma option.
  • Check Box Delimiter: Use this function when you have entered additional data such as account number, region, or other characteristics about your respondents that you want to appear in the final survey report.
  • Encoding: Default is Auto-Select (windows 1252) for English language emails. Use other options for other languages.
  • First row is header: Select to prevent the labels of your columns in the file from uploading as part of the email list of respondents.
  • Allow Duplicate Emails: Select if you wish to send the invitation to an address that repeats in the list.

8. Click Next. The new page opens with the Parsing Result, which previews how your emails were loaded into the CSV file. InstantSurvey displays a sample of your data so you can verify that the columns were correctly identified.

If the file was not parsed correctly, you can adjust the CSV options and click parse again.

9. If the file was parsed correctly, click next. The Mapping page opens. After parsing the uploaded file into columns, you must map some or all of the columns to responses in your survey. This connects each variable with a response.

10. Click on a column of uploaded data at the top of the screen to select it, and then use the tree-style selector below to drill down through the structure of your survey and choose the matching response.

  • In Select a column of uploaded data, choose the data for mapping. Most often, you will want to select Email. The column containing the email address must be mapped to “Email (key)”.
  • In Map it to a survey…, select radio button Map With, and select Email (key). This will make sure that each email address in the invitation list matches with an email address in the survey responses. Select Do Not Map only if you have data you do not wish to include in mapping. Continue making mapping selections as necessary.

Note: If you distribute the same survey later and use the Preload Addresses and Data option, you will have the option to Reuse Preload Mapping.

11. Click Finish. The Include / Exclude Partial Completes page opens.

At this point you can continue through the survey distribution wizard with your respondents and their corresponding data properly preloaded.


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