And why is it that people keep insisting on using Word for forms?
In the first part of this blog I looked at what forms are and what makes a good form. I then had a look a both Word and PDFs for making forms. I this second part of the blog, I’ll briefly summarise the problem with both Word and PDF forms and then look at the alternatives.
What is the problem with Word and PDF forms?
When creating forms in Word or PDF, The whole process feels back-to-front. After all, what is the ultimate point of having a form in the first place? To collect data. And yet with both the Word and PDF way of creating a form, you start with the form not organising how the data is going to look. And it’s the data, as we keep being told, that is everything these days.
Here comes the cavalry – online forms
This isn’t news to anyone who has worked with online forms for the last decade or more, but there are much better ways to create forms out there, and they are both far easier and much more useful, even, or perhaps especially, for the lay person who just wants people to sign up to their kids club or register interest in work team event.
Whilst there are many bespoke solutions out there Google Forms and MS Forms are both very attractive options, as they lead with the form filling process and so will be familiar to those who have used Word and PDF for their forms in the past. They are extremely simple to use: create the fields and text for each that you need, and you’re off. Once done, share the link with whom you want to fill in the form and watch the responses come in on the same portal, or click a button to export the responses to a spreadsheet. Both are almost identical in how they work, they are very simple to use, with a very uncluttered interface. Yes, you can’t craft the perfect form in terms of formatting, but they get the data collected, data you can use.
Building from the ground up
Airtable, which we use at Casedo, works the other way around. Airtable is an online relational database, it’s a very powerful tool, that is essentially tables that can interlink and hold attachments as well as many type of text and numerical data. The collected data can then be analysed using a variety of graphical tools. To create a form in Airtable, you first create a table of the information you want, and then create a ‘form view’ which gives you a simple form with fields of the data that you want collecting, you can choose to include or exclude any of the fields, and add conditions to the form so that some fields only appear if certain answers are given to other fields. Again, as with Google Forms and MS Forms, you can then share a link to the form, or embed it in a website.
There is a trade off here, to be sure. With Airtable you get the full power of a great online database and less bells and whistles with the form creation itself, whilst with Google and MS Forms the opposite is true.
Again, there are a multitude of online form providers these days.
Conclusion – are PDF forms redundant?
Before researching for this article, I would’ve said yes and whilst my view has changed, it has only just budged. I have discovered that you can export the data from a PDF form, but it doesn’t appear to be pretty, and as I mentioned previously it all seems back-to-front. The same goes for Word.
For document workflows and making sense of any matter or research there are tools like Casedo for importing PDFs and Word docs and bringing them together to make sense of them. Word is still the go to Word processor, I could name some competitors, but when it comes to PDFs, this is the de facto standard for document sharing, I’m not sure the word ‘competition’ even fits.
However, when it comes to creating forms, Word should be laid to rest, and I feel you’d need a very good reason to use PDFs for creating forms, because the online solutions out there, three of which are suggested above, are standout superior.