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DIY: Use Google Docs forms to collect information from users

Businesses often need to collect information from users that can help shape a product, launch a sale, or improve the user experience. Learn how to gather this information for free with Google Docs.

There are a number of services that will send out questionnaires for businesses that need information from their users. You may not realize that your small business might already be using a tool that includes a feature for creating such forms.

With the help of Google Documents, it's easy to create a form that will gather the information you need. All responses to the form will automatically fill in a spreadsheet that is saved to the Google Documents on the account that created the form. This means you have instant access to data as it comes in from users.

Creating a form in Google Documents

Google forms are created from within a new or a pre-existing Google Document or from wherever the user accesses the New drop-down. I'll walk through the process of how to create a form in Google Docs and then send the form to users or embed it in a site or blog.

When you're in a Google Document, go to Create | New and select Form (Figure A). (You can find this drop-down in a word processing document or a spreadsheet document.) Figure A

The new form is open and ready to customize (Figure B). Figure B

Creating a form in Google Docs. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Customizing your form

1. Select a theme for the form by clicking the Theme button.

2. Give the form a title. In my example, the primary question asked ("Favorite Desktop/distribution combination") is also the title of the form.

3. Add any text necessary to aid the users in filling out the form. This might be required to help users understand their choices or maybe why these questions are being asked. (This text is not required.)

4. In the Question Title field, give the first question a title. This title is also the first question.

5. In the Help Text field, add any copy that will help the user answer the question. (This text is not required.)

6. In the Question Type drop-down, select the type of question from these options:

  • Text
  • Paragraph text
  • Multiple choice
  • Checkboxes
  • Choose from a list
  • Scale
  • Grid
The last two options are possible points of confusion. The Scale option allows for a question to have a scale of answers (such as from least to most desirable) and can range from 1-10. The Grid option allows the creation of a matrix with rows and columns so users can select from numerous combinations (Figure C). The maximum number of columns is five, but rows can be unlimited. Figure C

Creating a question in a Google Docs form. (Click the image to enlarge.)

7. Enter possible answers to your question if appropriate.

8. Click the Done button to save the question.

9. Check the box next to Make This A Required Question if appropriate for the form.

10. If you want to ask another question, click the Edit button to open the question editor (Figure D). (The Edit button is in the bottom right of the screen.) Figure D

Click Edit to add another question to your Google Docs form. (Click the image to enlarge.)

11. Create the second question by repeating steps 4-9 (make the appropriate changes as needed).

12. Save the form.

13. Once you finish entering questions, you're ready to email the form to users. When you click the Email This Form button (which is at the top right of the form), a new window will pop up (Figure E) where you can add recipients' email addresses (separate each email address with a comma). If you do not check Include Form In The Email, the email will only contain a link that will take the user to the online form. Finally, click the Send button. Figure E

Once the form is sent, you will receive an email with instructions on how to view the collected data.

Figure F shows a screenshot of a spreadsheet with some responses from my Google Docs forms questions (neither question is one that I used in my previous examples). Figure F

Google Docs form spreadsheet shows collected data.

Embedding a form on a site or a blog

These Google Docs forms can even be embedded into a website or a blog by clicking the More Actions drop-down (in the top right of the form) and selecting Embed after you create and customize your form. The embed code is an iframe tag, so it can be used on almost any site.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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