(See also How Does it Work?, Configuration Options, Authoring, Server, and Respondent Requirements, and Content Analysis.)

The QPL software was originally written in Microsoft QuickBASIC in 1985 and first used by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for a computer-aided telephone interview (CATI) project in 1986. Since then, several versions were written in Microsoft C, adding network and complex skipping capabilities. The last CATI-focused version, Version 4, was last updated for Y2K compliance in 1999 and remains available on this web site. See the QPL Version 4 page for more information.

Beginning in 2000, the QPL system was completely rewritten using a combination of software tools: The language compiler and application converter were rewritten as 32-bit Microsoft C console applications. These applications now create programs that run on a web server and in a respondent's browser instead of on a PC.

Previously, a questionnaire program would be compiled into a binary file and then run on a user's computer with the QPL COLLECT program. The COLLECT program would display one question at-a-time to the interviewer and then would skip to the next question based on the response to the question.

The new web version of QPL does not use the COLLECT program. Instead, it generates programs that run both on a web server (using a "server-side" programming language called PHP and an SQL data base called MySQL) and on the respondent's browser (using a programming language that is built into most browser's called JavaScript or ECMAScript). These questionnaire-specific files are combined with standard program, graphic, data base, and HTML files to create a dynamic-web site. That is, a web site that sends information customized to respondents and receives responses to a questionnaire and stores it in a data base.

Default QPL Page Layout

Default QPL Page Layout

The authoring environment has also changed. All of the QPL programs and standard files may be installed into the Macromedia HomeSite HTML editor as an add-in. All of the routine QPL functionality may be accessed through a tool-bar that is added to HomeSite. And the HomeSite editor color-codes the QPL keywords to make it easier to see syntax errors.

QPL Installed as HomeSite Add-In

QPL Installed in HomeSite

The QPL software supports creating small, one-page questionnaires, or large, multi-page questionnaires. GAO surveys often contain as many as 300 or more items.

It can be configured to fit a wide variety of survey situations:

And because it is an open-source system, you can modify the default behaviors to fit other situations, such as not allowing respondents to go backwards through your questionnaire pages.

An email system is also integrated with the questionnaire that lets you easily send a message to each respondent that is customized according to his or her responses to the questionnaire, such as reminder messages to respondents that have not completed the survey. It also can be used to send the survey itself as an email message.

GAO has used this software to produce over 400 web questionnaires over the last four years to thousands of respondents, including dozens of intra-agency data-collection efforts.

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