Computer Assisted Interviewing Software

Lead Editor(s): NicolasSheon

The two main reasons for using a computer to administer a survey are efficiency (no need to print, store, or manually enter data from a pen and paper survey) and data validity (respondents tend to be more honest on a self-administered, computer-assisted survey). But computer-assisted interview software still leaves a lot of desired. This article compares the old standard software, QDS, with iForms, a new product that was not designed for survey research, but still offers some advantages over QDS.

ACASI (Audio Computer-Assisted Self Interview) : Respondents complete an interview (or a portion of an interview) by themselves. Questions, responses and instructions are presented on a computer screen (usually a laptop) and the respondent can answer using a mouse, keyboard or touch-sensitive screen. The respondent can have the questions and answers read aloud (usually through headphones) so that the effect of literacy level is minimized.

CAPI (Computer-Assisted Personal Interview) : The interview is administered on a computer (usually a laptop), but an interviewer reads the questions, responses and instructions, assisting the respondent with the completion of the interview.

HAPI (Handheld-Assisted Personal Interview) : This modality is much like CAPI, except the interview is administered with a handheld computing device (a.k.a. handheld, Personal Digital Assistant / PDA, Palm\xAE Pilot, etc.). HAPI is more portable and can be administered in the field. In a crowded location, the small screen provides more privacy than a laptop or kiosk. New mini computers are powerful enough for multi-media, making Audio HAPI interviews possible.

Computer Platform Considerations

Aside from the software used to design and administer the survey, another important consideration when choosing a handheld or portable solution is the computer operating system. As of 2008, WinCE and PalmOS PDAs have been replaced by smartphones which have smaller screens and higher costs. While PDAs were once attractive as a less expensive and more portable alternative to a laptop, this is no longer the case with the advent of low-cost netbook computers able to run Windows 7 or XP thus providing full support for ACASI, a larger screen and a larger keyboard for entering larger amounts of text. PDAs also suffered from other issues: tiny, low-resolution screens, they require a stylus, tiny keyboards, and very limited file storage. PDAs tend to lose all their data unless the battery is kept charged. ActiveSync, the software that syncs the PDA to a Windows computer is terribly buggy. It is much too easy to lose QDS HAPI data when syncing the PDAs.

Although ACASI software has been exclusively a Windows application, the new Apple handheld computers (e.g. the iPad and iPhone) now offer a new platform for survey interfaces that include support for multimedia input such as pictures and audio, and data syncing via wifi.

Nova Research Questionnaire Design Studio (QDS)

QDS is widely used in epidemiological research and is currently the standard, but QDS software is somewhat complex to use for non-specialists. This has lead many researchers to look for alternatives (described below). Nova Research, the company that created QDS, primarily provides data management services and QDS was designed by Nova Research for their own use. This means that there is little incentive for Nova Research to make QDS more user-friendly or to add new features. That conflict of interest is evident in the poor support provided for the HAPI module which seems like an afterthought. As a result, development of HAPI has been slow. Based on meetings we've had with the company owners, they were not very interested in improving the interface or the data management tools to make them easier to use. For example, since PDAs can capture audio, it would be nice to include the option to collect qualitative responses as an audio recording. QDS does not have a web interface and does not support non-western languages such as Chinese.

Alternatives to QDS for HAPI and AHAPI applications:

iForms is a data collection tool for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch). The iForms app can be downloaded on iTunes for free and a free trial of the iformbuilder is available at

Comparison of iForm Data Collection system and Nova Research QDS

A cost comparison between QDS and iForms reveals two different business models, one emphasizing software licenses and the other server space for cloud data storage of the survey data. The cost of using QDS is primarily influenced by the number of data collection devices you will use. Each computer or device requires a $495 Data Collection Module in addition to software for questionnaire design and data storage. iForms software is free, but you must pay $50 per month to store your data on their server after a 30 day free trial. To save money over the monthly subscription, they offer an annual subscription of $499 for a maximum of 5 devices, or $2000 for 20 devices which includes 6 hours of technical support in designing the surveys. When estimating the cost of QDS, one should also factor in staff time, training and expertise needed for programming the survey and managing the data.

Survey design interface

Design Studio



Software for each input device

Data Collection Module


iForm app


Data Storage

Warehouse Manager




Cost for 1 year and 5 devices





Cost for 1 year and 20 devices





Compatible platforms: QDS design studio, warehouse manager, and data collection module all require Windows computers. iFormbuilder's survey developer interface is browser-based and thus platform independent, but data can only be collected using Apple's iOS devices: the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. While the price of Windows laptops and netbooks has declined, touchscreen tablet computers running windows are relatively expensive compared to Apple iOS devices.

Ease of use: The iFormbuilder interface is browser-based and can be accessed from any Windows or OS X computer connected to the internet. No knowledge of programming is required to create a survey and the iFormbuilder interface validates and points out problems with variable names as you go. QDS requires more experience with SAS format since variable names are limited to 8 characters. iForm is comparatively intuitive when it comes to creating conditional questions that only appear based on the responses to previous questions. This means that you do not need to hire a QDS programmer who has been trained by QDS to use their software, or pay staff to manage the transfer of data from the devices to the warehouse manager. That said, consulting with an experienced survey designer and data manager is strongly recommended for any project involving questionnaires. For a sense of what it is like to work with QDS, see these slides from a QDS training or view the online help documentation. The ease of programming and synching with iForm reduces costs and time commitment by allowing quick drafting, testing, and revision of the survey. Revisions to the survey are automatically sent to all devices in the field via the server.

Although iForms synchs via wifi, wifi is not required to administer a survey. Unlike web-based surveys that require a connection to the Internet to collect data, iForms can collect data and store it on the iOS device until a wifi connection is available, at which point the data are securely transmitted to the iForms server. Each time the iForm app is launched on the iOS device, all updates to the questionnaire are downloaded to the device ensuring that only the latest version of the data collection instrument is used. iForm records the location where the survey was entered using GPS (iPhone or iPad 3G) or wifi positioning (iPod Touch or iPad Wifi). This makes iForm ideal for site evaluation, outreach or fieldwork.

Access to the data: While QDS requires users to transfer the data from the device as a .qad file into the warehouse manager before it can be exported for analysis in SPSS or Access, iForm allows instant access to the data, which can be emailed, or accessed on the server in many formats, including a matrix view, a map view, pie and bar charts, html, pdf, or Excel. The server also allows users to query and filter the data, e.g. show all surveys from San Francisco from people over 40, or all the audio or picture responses to one question can be reviewed and contrasted in a matrix.

Support for mixed-method research: iForm inputs include photos, drawings and audio recordings using the built-in microphone on iOS devices. The ability to collect open-ended and fixed-choice responses is particularly useful for mixed-methods research designs involving both quantitative data - such as bar-code scans, demographic or risk-behavior variables- and qualitative data - such as a photo of a lesion, an audio recording of an illness narrative or a detailed description of an incident of risk-behavior. Multimedia responses can be combined with quantitative inputs in the same interview, allowing researchers to collect formative data in order to develop and refine survey questions.

Formative research: Because survey questions can be quickly and easily revised prior to the next interview, iForms can be used for formative research when some of the questions and fixed-choice responses are still being developed. You can audio record think-alouds while the participant completes a survey question. Survey questions and response options can be reworded based on initial audio responses. Fixed-choice questions can be converted into open-ended questions as needed.

iForm questions can link to attached documents, or link out to a web page containing additional text, pictures, and embedded videos. The ability to link to rich multimedia without leaving the survey enables iForm to be used for individually tailored patient health education or support in making a decision between treatment options, or study participation.

I have not tried the following software, but they are alternatives to QDS.

Techneos Entryware Software claims to work with PalmOS and WinCE. It also offers multimedia capabilities such as recording audio.

Pendragon Forms was originally designed for PalmOS but now supports WinCE as well.

Snap Survey is primarily designed for web surveys as well as HAPI, but does not appear to support ACASI.

QEDML is a subscription-based Questionnaire Design service.

For an article comparing these and other ACASI software, see

Software to improve the quality of voices in ACASI

Although ACASI has the potential to overcome literacy problems by reading the questions to the participant, one of the drawbacks of ACASI software is the robotic sound of the computer generated voices that are included with Windows. It is possible for a human to record each question and answer and have the software play these audio files. However, recording each question and answer is very time consuming, especially if the survey is in several languages and undergoes many changes. An alternative solution is to use better quality text to speech software. Next-Up Text-Aloud software is inexpensive ($30) and works with a wide array of more natural sounding voices, both male and female with various English accents or even in other languages.

Compare two computer voices reading the following question about anal sex in the last 12 months:

\xBFEn los \xFAltimos 12 meses, tuviste sexo anal conun hombre (metiste tu pene en su ano)?

Listen to Windows "Computer Sam" reading the above question in Spanish.

Listen to Nuance RealSpeak Solo\xAE "Paulina" reading the above question in Spanish. Paulina and other voices are available from for $45.