How to Extract and Process Data from Questionnaires

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Harmony project:

How to Extract and Process Data from Questionnaires

More than thirty years ago, John Naisbitt put into words a feeling many of us recognise today in “Megatrends,” saying, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” This statement is incredibly relevant in today’s world, filled to the brim with data for research, analysis, and making decisions. The job of pulling and refining data from questionnaires is key, as these are so many insights and so much valuable feedback.

However, this task comes with its set of problems. The wide range of data types (from fixed-choice answers to free-text replies) along with the sheer amount of information and the need for precision, creates big challenges. These issues can make the process less efficient and lead to mistakes that lower the value of the data collected.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. Making the process of data extraction and processing from questionnaires more efficient is definitely possible. We understand the roadblocks developers and researchers encounter in this field. That’s why, today, we shine a light on successful strategies for handling questionnaire data so you can adapt a more efficient, accurate, and streamlined approach.

Let’s go through these strategies together. Get ready to turn challenges into chances for creativity and better research quality.

Let’s Understand the Basics of Data Extraction

Pulling data from questionnaires is an important step in transforming the gathered responses into actionable insights. This involves handling both structured and unstructured data.

What’s the difference, you ask? Structured data is the kind that fits neatly into categories, such as the choices selected in a multiple-choice question. On the flip side, unstructured data includes the free-text responses where participants express their thoughts in their own words.

Data can be collected in several ways – these ways each reflect the unique methods by which questionnaires are shared and completed. For instance, paper forms are a classic approach that requires participants to mark their answers physically. These responses then need to be manually keyed into a digital system for analysis – a process that might take a bit of elbow grease but is key for some research types.

PDFs serve as another popular method, particularly for surveys that are shared electronically that respondents print out, fill in, and send back. Similar to paper forms, transforming these PDFs into analysable data often involves scanning and the magic of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology (we’ll talk about this a bit more later on).

The adoption of online survey tools has transformed data collection within the last few decades. How so? By enabling the direct digital capture of responses (which is much faster and easier for everyone involved). With an estimated 15 million active survey users sending over 3 million online survey invitations daily through SurveyMonkey alone, there is a huge number of digital surveys being filled out every day.

Each method comes with its own downsides and perks, yet the end goal is always the same: to efficiently compile and prep the data for deeper processing and analysis. No matter which type of data you’re dealing with, understanding these fundamentals is your first move towards mastering data management.

Tools and Techniques for Effective Data Extraction

Picking the right set of tools and approaches for pulling data out of questionnaires is vital for the reliability and smooth running of your study. Among the many options out there, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) stand out for their utility.

The OCR market was worth $12.56 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow rapidly, at a rate of 14.8% yearly until 2030. This shows how much people are using and investing in OCR technology. Okay, you might say. But what is OCR?

Optical Character Recognition turns physical papers or PDFs into a form that digital systems can understand. Imagine scanning a stack of filled-out surveys and having them quickly converted into editable text. This technology shines in digitising responses from paper-based or PDF questionnaires. It shifts them swiftly from collection to analysis phase. The success of OCR technology, though, relies on the clarity of the original documents and its ability of correctly reading varied handwriting.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are the bridge for data between online survey platforms and your analysis tools. They’re like a direct line, automating the flow of responses straight into your database or software for crunching numbers. This automation cuts down on manual input and the errors that come with it. While APIs are great for managing structured data, they also bring unstructured feedback under control – by sorting it into a tidier format.

Choosing the best tool is more than a matter of preference – it’s about what fits the nature of your questionnaires, the kind of data you’re after (structured or unstructured), and the demands of your project.

Processing and Cleaning Extracted Data

After pulling data from questionnaires, we move onto the essential steps of processing and tidying it up. It’s a bit like getting your data to take a bath and dress up properly before it steps out into the world of analysis. Let’s walk through what this makeover involves:

  1. Checking It Over (Validation): Think of this as the first glance over your data to spot any obvious mistakes. Are all the boxes ticked? Do the answers make sense within the context? It’s about catching those little slip-ups that could trip us up later.
  2. Cleaning Up (Data Cleaning): Now, we’re ironing out the wrinkles found during our initial check. This could mean fixing spelling mistakes, filling in blanks, or deciding what to do with those outlier responses that stick out like a sore thumb. The goal is to tidy up the data while keeping its true essence intact.
  3. Getting It in Shape (Transformation): This is where we get our data ready to fit into the analytical wardrobe. It might involve turning text answers into numbers that our software can easily crunch or grouping open-ended responses into themes. It’s all about making sure our data plays nicely together, no matter where it came from.

Why bother with all this? Well, just like you wouldn’t want to base your decisions on hearsay, you wouldn’t want to rely on messy data. Clean and well-processed data are the foundation of trustworthy analysis and insights. Skipping out on these steps is like heading out with your shirt inside out — you might not notice the mistake right away, but it’s bound to lead to some awkward moments. Investing a bit of time here sets you up for a smoother ride down the analysis road, ensuring the conclusions you draw are solid and reliable.

How Harmony Boosts Efficiency by 100X

Seems like a lot of work? A customised method can greatly ease and improve the process. This is where we want to tell you about our favourite (and very own) tool: Harmony.

Harmony revolutionises the way we approach the complex task of harmonising questionnaire data. With its advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) at the core, Harmony offers a tailored solution that excels in interpreting, comparing, and integrating data across languages and formats, making it invaluable for international research and projects with diverse data sources.

Main Features of Harmony

  • Multilingual Data Handling: Harmony’s NLP technology guarantees accurate analysis across different languages.
  • Advanced Response Analysis: Utilizing Transformer neural networks, Harmony identifies similarities and differences in questionnaire items beyond mere keywords.
  • Versatile Data Format Compatibility: Doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with PDFs, Excel, or Word documents, Harmony adapts to various formats.

What Sets Harmony Apart

  • Direct API Access: Offers seamless integration into existing workflows, allowing for efficient data processing and analysis.
  • Flexible Integration and Customisation: Compatible with a wide array of analytical tools and customizable to specific project needs, Harmony enhances workflow precision and efficiency.

But the real charm of Harmony lies in its ability to:

  • Free Up Time: By taking over the grunt work of data extraction and processing, Harmony cuts down the hours spent on manual data handling. This frees you up to focus on what really matters: diving into analysis and uncovering insights.
  • Minimize Mistakes: Manual processing is a minefield of potential errors, from simple typos to inconsistency in data categorization. Harmony’s automated approach slashes these risks, offering peace of mind that your data is both precise and dependable.

Harmony isn’t just another tool; it’s a comprehensive ally for developers and researchers striving for meticulousness and efficiency in their endeavours. With features like:

  • Effortless API integration for automated workflow
  • Wide-ranging compatibility with analytical tools
  • Customization to meet unique project needs
  • A shortcut to saving precious time
  • A strategy to cut down on data processing errors

It makes data extraction and processing so much easier!

Harmony’s Proven Real-Life Success

Let us tell you about a real-life success story, because let’s be honest, don’t we all love those?

The Australian Data Archive (ADA), much like its counterpart in the UK, is filled with data spanning public opinions on housing, political viewpoints, and in-depth surveys on employment and health. But they needed our help to make sense of their data…

The challenge: Before Harmony came into the picture, the ADA faced a mountain of survey questions needing harmonisation. This task was filled with inconsistencies that risked the integrity of data across various studies.

A new approach with Harmony: In search of a streamlined process, the ADA found its solution in Harmony. With Harmony’s skill of grouping questionnaire items by their meaning, a ray of hope shone on the ADA’s challenges.

The improvements that were made with Harmony’s help were impressive:

  • Efficiency: Harmony transformed what was once a painstaking manual slog into a smooth, automated operation. This shift not only saved precious time but also reduced the effort required to tidy up questionnaire data.
  • Consistency and Data Quality: Harmony’s consistent method of organising questionnaire items polished the quality of the ADA’s data and made it a more reliable resource for research.
  • Easier Data Comparison: Thanks to Harmony, comparing and analysing data across different studies became less of a headache. This opened up new avenues for insightful research findings.

By bringing in Harmony, the ADA revolutionised its approach to managing survey data and enhanced both the process and the potential for discovery.

If you’re interested, you can read more about this case study here. And if you’ve become curious and would like to get inspired by the many other ways you can use our tool, check out our blog on 10 data harmonisation examples that move businesses and organisations forward. You will find many data harmonisation examples and uses that you might not have thought about.

From Data to Stories: Let’s Shape the Future of Research

Chip and Dan Heath once noted, “Data are just summaries of thousands of stories – tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.” Our goal should be to turn raw data into stories that increase understanding and encourage action.

A thought-provoking piece of information from a NewVantage Partners survey points out that merely 24% of executives see their companies as driven by data. This shows us that there’s a bi difference between gathering data and actually using it – a void that Harmony strives to fill by boosting data quality and making it work seamlessly together.

Our advice: Give Harmony a try. It helps make the harmonisation journey smoother and also amplifies the quality and practicality of your data. Start with a review of how you currently manage data and think about how incorporating sophisticated harmonisation tools might lessen the grunt work, enhance uniformity, and help you get richer insights from your datasets.

If you’re a developer interested in learning more about the process of starting to use Harmony, take a look at our developer guide for more information on that topic.

Let’s not stop at just amassing data. Instead, let’s dig into it for the compelling tales it holds, using forward-thinking tools to shape this information into wisdom that guides decisions, sparks change, and forges paths forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

Got questions? We hear you! Here are our answers to some common concerns surrounding data harmonisation, data extraction and data processing:

What is the difference between data standardization and data harmonisation?

Data standardization is about converting data to a common format and making sure everything follows the same rules or standards, like changing dates to a single format (DD/MM/YYYY). On the other hand, data harmonisation takes this a step further by aligning different datasets, so that they can work together seamlessly. It’s about making sure different pieces of data can “talk” to each other, even if they come from varied sources. We hope this answered your confusion about data standardisation vs harmonisation.

What is the difference between data harmonisation and MDM (Master Data Management)?

Data harmonisation is a process focused on making data from different sources compatible for analysis or use. MDM, however, is a broader strategy that ensures the entire organization uses consistent, accurate, and up-to-date master data. While data harmonisation is a task within the MDM framework, MDM encompasses a wider range of data governance, quality, and management practices.

How do you harmonise data from different sources?

Harmonising data involves several steps: identify the data to be harmonised, understand the format and structure of each source, and then apply transformations to align the data. Tools like mapping and matching are used to find common elements, and adjustments are made to resolve discrepancies in units, formats, or categorizations. The goal is to create a unified dataset that accurately represents information from all sources.

What is the difference between data harmonisation and integration?

While both processes aim to make data from different sources work together, data harmonisation is about making sure the data is compatible and consistent across datasets. Data integration focuses on combining data from multiple sources into a single, accessible repository. Harmonisation ensures quality and uniformity in the combined data, while integration is about the actual merging and storage of data.

How do you extract data from a questionnaire and collect data from a survey questionnaire?

Extracting and collecting data from a questionnaire involves designing the survey to capture the necessary information, distributing it to your target audience through methods like online platforms, paper forms, or interviews, and then gathering the responses. Digital tools can help automate the collection and initial sorting of data, especially for structured questions. For open-ended responses, qualitative analysis might be needed to understand the insights fully.

How do you process a questionnaire and survey data?

Processing a questionnaire starts with cleaning the data to remove any errors or irrelevant answers. Then, you categorize responses, especially for open-ended questions, to identify common themes or patterns. For quantitative data, statistical analysis can reveal trends and relationships. The entire process involves preparing the data for analysis, analysing it to draw conclusions, and then reporting the findings in an understandable way. This allows you to transform raw data into meaningful insights.

Meta Title: Maximising Data Insights with Harmony: The Future of Questionnaire Analysis

Meta Description: Discover Harmony’s role in transforming questionnaire data into actionable insights – enhance data quality and interoperability for researchers.


  • Data harmonisation
  • Data extraction
  • Data standardisation vs harmonisation
  • Data harmonisation examples
  • Mastering data management

Related Posts

Pydata on 2 July

Pydata on 2 July

Harmony at PyData London - 86th Meetup Topic: NLP and generative models for psychology research Thomas Wood will present our work on Harmony,, which is a free online tool that uses generative AI and LLMs to help psychologists analyse datasets. It uses Python, Pandas and HuggingFace Sentence Transformers to find similarities between questionnaires. Psychologists and social scientists often have to match items in different questionnaires, such as “I often feel anxious” and “Feeling nervous, anxious or afraid”.

Data Harmonisation in Education

Data Harmonisation in Education

Data Harmonisation in Education: Overview The term ‘harmonisation’ has often been used in different contexts – for example, to describe similar phenomena, such as collaboration, coherence, alignment, integration, partnership, etc. However, we might argue that these concepts might do nothing more than indicate the extent and scale of integration among different entities when it comes to regional cooperation. Now, the underlying degree of interaction between all the players involved can run a lot deeper and tighter when we transition from collaboration, partnership, and cooperation to integration, community, harmonisation, and interdependence.

Signup to our newsletter

The latest news on data harmonisation project.

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Harmony project:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices.