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Qualtrics and the Evolution of Survey Research at UNC

By Alana Edwards

What do 12,200 Tar Heels have in common? That’s the number of faculty, staff and students in the UNC community who use Qualtrics to build and distribute complex surveys for UNC-related projects.

A Qualtrics Community Takes Root

Qualtrics has spread like wildfire on our campus because it’s a very intuitive system,” says Teresa Edwards, Odum’s assistant director for survey research. “It’s quick and easy for someone to sit down and create a survey without a lot of programming skill.”

When Edwards joined the Odum Institute in 2003, she found that graduate students needed a user-friendly online survey tool. Researchers relied on a hodgepodge of homegrown software and clunky survey websites. They wanted a simpler solution. Teresa Edwards discovered Qualtrics and facilitated its arrival at UNC in 2006.

Odum initially used Qualtrics to help graduate students design and disseminate surveys for their dissertations. These early adopters shared the tool with their mentors and research partners. The spread of Qualtrics accelerated after it was approved by UNC for use with sensitive data in 2012. In the thirteen years since UNC acquired the software license, Qualtrics has rapidly expanded and reshaped survey research on campus.

Qualtrics Consulting

Paige Ottmar assists a student during Qualtrics consulting hours

To assist UNC’s growing community of Qualtrics users, the Odum Institute began offering consulting services for the program about a decade ago. According to Odum’s Qualtrics consultant Paige Ottmar, researchers from all departments and walks of academic life email her questions and visit her walk-in consulting hours. Even professors stop by to double-check their surveys before sending them out to colleagues. The Odum Institute’s services are here to help Qualtrics users work through software questions and improve their surveys.

“When someone comes in, I’m more than happy to take whatever time is needed,” says Ottmar. “It’s a lot faster to just come to me than to try to putz around on the Internet trying to figure it out alone.”

Beyond the Basics

While Qualtrics’ intuitive interface means that anyone can pick up the software quickly, users stand to benefit from learning its more advanced features.

“A lot of people think that Qualtrics is only used for bare bones surveys, but you can use it for many things beyond that, especially since it’s really integrated with HTML and JavaScript,” says Paige Ottmar. “There are a lot more possibilities with Qualtrics than people know.”

Lesser-known Qualtrics capabilities include:

  • Streamlining and automating administrative workflows
  • Distributing and conducting surveys over SMS text messaging
  • Scripting and sending reminders to recipients who have not completed the survey
  • Integrating access to external databases using JavaScript and jQuery.
  • Tailoring survey experience to each respondent by pre-loading information and creating individual login codes
  • Downloading response data into Excel or SPSS format for use in SAS and other statistical analysis packages

There is no limit to what you can do with Qualtrics, says Teresa Edwards. For new and experienced users alike, seeking assistance and discovering new Qualtrics features leads to stronger and more efficient survey research.

Utilize Odum’s Qualtrics Support Services

The Odum Institute’s Qualtrics services assist users with a variety of survey needs. Paige Ottmar encourages any Qualtrics user interesting in learning more to visit her walk-in consulting hours or email for assistance.

This semester, Qualtrics consulting hours are 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. on Mondays and 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Thursdays in Davis Library room 228D.  Hours for each semester, and exceptions to normal hours, are always posted at

UNC faculty, staff and students can access the program free of charge at the UNC Qualtrics portal. UNC Healthcare is not included in the campus license. Read more about the Odum Institute’s Qualtrics services here.

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