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Creating Online Forms

Online forms provide a way for you to interact with and collect feedback and data from your users. There are many ways to create online forms. How you do it depends on what you want to do with the form after it is submitted and whether it needs to be downloaded or printed and whether it needs a datastore for collecting data. The instructions below illustrate how to create various types of online forms.

Option 1: Creating PDF forms (using Adobe Acrobat) for print/download:

If you are interested in distributing online forms that can be downloaded and printed, you are advised to create PDF-based forms using Adobe Acrobat.

PDF is a de facto standard for electronic distribution of documents and forms because it preserves the look and feel of the original document. PDF files are compact in size and allow anyone, on any platform, to view and print documents with the free Acrobat Reader.

PDF forms basically allow certain fields of the document to be filled in by the end-user. You as an author of a PDF form can constrain what type of values are permissible, control formatting of the fields, and even specify simple calculations among fields. You can also allow a user to type right into the Adobe PDF file before printing it out, saving you from having to read your user's sloppy handwriting.

To create PDF files (forms or documents), you'll need to purchase and install Adobe Acrobat first. The program installs itself as a "printer subsystem" and enables virtually any application that can print to create professional quality PDF documents - with just a push of a button!

Option 2: Creating HTML forms (using CGI script) that can email data to recipients (Good for forms that solicit simple and short responses)

Creating HTML-based online forms requires experience with software that can create Web forms (e.g., Dreamweaver or FrontPage), or else you have to know how to code the form tags in HTML. Forms that collect data online require use of a form processing (CGI) script, such as the FormMail script available on the main University Web server. CGI-based form script provides a facility to e-mail form results to one or more user-specified address(es). Options are provided for further customizing the form and form responses.

Keep in mind, the FormMail script on university servers restricts users to submit less than 255 characters in its form textbox field. If users submit data exceeding the maximum allowed length, you'll receive "Max Length Exceeded" error message in your email results. NO PART of an over-limit response submitted in the textbox field by the user will be delivered, which is why this option is ONLY good for forms that solicit simple and short responses.

For details, please visit the FormMail Tutorial.

Option 3: Creating HTML forms that can email data and store data in a database using a PHP-based application. (Good for all kinds of forms that require database backend and are intended for forms that are stored on the main University Web server).

This option provides a robust way to create online forms and collect corresponding data from the forms. It uses a free PHP-based application called phpESP and provides an easy-to-use interface and many advanced features. No programming skills are required. It can be used to submit registration forms, application forms, order forms, surveys, questionnaires and more that contain non-sensitive personal data.

With phpESP, you design your form online and will have full control over the layout. You do not need any program to download or install. All you need is your browser and a connection to the Web. A designed form will be stored on the main University Web server. You can link to or embed the form from within your web site.

Response data is collected in a mySQL database and may be exported to a comma delimited file, which in turn can be analyzed by Excel or another spreadsheet program. As an option, you may choose to get the results of a submitted form sent by email. You may link to or define a custom message that will automatically be sent to your visitor immediately after he/she submits your form.

For details, please visit the phpESP Tutorial.

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