How to include and adjust question numbering in your form design

This support article is accompanied by this sample form.

Designing a questionnaire can be quite a dynamic task. We are always adding, removing, moving and replacing questions. Not only throughout testing and training, but also in the course of data collection. Sometimes, we simply adjust an existing, previous questionnaire to implement at a different stage of the project.

Unfortunately, implementing those changes and adjustments can impose a small problem for question numbering, since the basics of adding question numbers in SurveyCTO is including it in the field labels, before the actual question (e.g. “3. What is your age?”). However, what if you want consistent question numbering when adding new fields other than at the end? How about preserving consistent numbering throughout the life of the form design?

We have good news! If you use the spreadsheet form design template, you can make use of Microsoft Excel/Google Sheets capabilities to ease any changes.

If you are currently working in the online form designer, click on the Save menu button in the menu at the top, then click on Download form definition from the menu that opens to export the form design in Excel or Google Sheets format. Alternatively, from the Design tab, under the form's title, click on Download, then Form files. Under Deployed form version, click on the .xlsx file link to download the latest version of your form in Excel format.

You may have noticed that SurveyCTO form template has a specific structure, which includes required and optional column names. SurveyCTO recognizes and reads those column names accordingly (learn more at the help-survey and help-choices sheets of the template). Luckily, we can add as many extra columns as we need to help with the design process. As long as we don’t use valid SurveyCTO column names, they won’t affect the form design in any way.

To implement our proposed design, follow these steps in the survey sheet of your spreadsheet form design template:


  1. Create a new column, “field_number”, to include the number of each field. If your question numbering follows a simple sequence like 1, 2, 3, and on, you can set a formula to automatically calculate the next question number (e.g. =C2+1).
  2. Create a new column, "field_label", to include the label of your question without numbering.
  3. In the column label, which is the existing column used to display question labels, you can use the spreadsheet formula =CONCATENATE() to concatenate "field_number" and "field_label".


To apply the above formulas to all your fields (or rows), you can double click on the fill handle. This will fill a formula down that column.

How to account for fields without numbering?

While most questions will require numbering, a form design usually includes additional informational fields that have no related numbering. Most note fields are examples of this. However, when applying the formula discussed above, the label of these fields will include a space and a dot (.) when not finding any value under the column “field_number” (e.g. “. This is a note”). If you would like to avoid this, you can adjust the formula to account for fields without any value under the “field_number” column, using an if() expression: =IF(ISBLANK(C2), D2, CONCATENATE(C2,". ",D2)). This will first check whether the “field_number” is blank and, if so, make sure that the “label” value is equal to the “field_label” value.

Using the method above, if you need to change the order of questions, add fields or remove others, you won't need to manually change the "label" of each field in the questionnaire, since the column "field_number" will automatically re-evaluate, as well as the column "label". Even better, you can add question numbering quickly and easily, at any stage in the form design process, even after finishing everything else.

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