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Designing Forms Using Google Spreadsheets

written by: Mike Metzger•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 9/29/2008

Ever needed to gather a bit of information via a web form but you either don't have the time or the programming knowledge? You can now use Google Spreadsheets to create web forms in no time at all.

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    If you've had any experience with online tools such as web forms or databases, you know how convenient it is to point your users, friends, and colleagues to a simple form to get the information you need. This typically requires access to web hosting, some tools that don't really do what you want, and possibly even some custom programming, especially if you'd like this information in a database or spreadsheet form. Thanks to some new capabilities in Google Spreadsheets, this is a problem of the past.

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    Google Spreadsheets

    A couple months back, Google quietly added a feature to their Spreadsheets application to create a web form that would tie into the columns on any given worksheet in your document. It worked well enough, but it wasn't the most user friendly tool, especially when it came to customizing the form behaviors. A recent review shows that Google has since added a form builder tool which makes the whole process more streamlined. It is now possible to create and customize your web forms by defining types of data entered, whether a question is required, and give hints to the user about how to fill out your form. You can even embed the forms into your own pages to add your own style.

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    Creating the Form

    Let's start out by creating a simple form to accomplish a given task - Your parents are having their 50th wedding anniversary and you'd like to track everyone who is attending, and what they plan to bring with them (It's a potluck party.) Let's follow these instructions:

    1. Open your Google Docs menu if you haven't already.
    2. Click New and select Form - This opens the Form editor for you.
    3. You'll see a couple areas on the page. On the first text box, enter a title for the form - in this case we'll call it "50th Wedding Anniversary Celebration".
    4. The next text box allows you to place any details you'd like. In this case, we'll just add some simple text describing the purpose of the form.
    5. Now that we have our descriptions in place, let's create this form. You will see one section showing Question Title - click on this text box and enter "Do you plan to attend?". For the Help Text, click the text box and enter "Please check yes or no".
    6. For Question Type, select Multiple Choice. For the first option, type "Yes" into the text box. For the second, type "No" into the box. You'll notice that you can add as many selections as you like.
    7. We've finished with this question, so check the box Make this a required question and click Done.
    8. Now click on Add question, and select Text. This creates a new question area to edit. Enter the appropriate information for "How many people will attend?" You can select whatever question type you'd like, but I'll simply make this a text box. When finished, click on Done.
    9. Finally, add another question for what they plan to bring. When finished, click on Save to save the form.
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    Using the Form

    Once you've created the form, you can e-mail it to any address you like, or use your Google contacts list. This provides a link for each person to access the form and fill out the appropriate information. You can even include the form directly in the e-mail improving the chances people will respond.

    Once they've filled out the form, you have a couple ways to view the information. If you open the form window, you have the option to click on View Responses and see the assorted data. You can also view the information in spreadsheet form from the Google Docs window if that provides the data in a better format. One really nice trick is if you have the spreadsheet window open, you can view the responses live as people fill out the forms.

    The Google Forms option adds a lot of useful functionality, but we haven't even covered everything. Some other options to explore include embedding the form on your own web page, changing the Thank you message, enabling and disabling forms, and so on. Also the data is a full Google Spreadsheet document so you can use all the features there as well.