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What is a form?

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

A form is a structured document with a fixed arrangement. Forms are used to collect the required information in a logical, meaningful fashion for communication and pass to another entity.

When you picture what a form is, you can conjure many different types of documents.

A purchase order, a survey, a service request, or a tax return might come to mind.

But there are many types of forms we don’t immediately think of as such.

When you write a check or cash a money order, cast a vote, agree to terms, or accept web cookies, you are also filling in a form. A statement, such as a monthly bill, is a typed document that is fundamentally the output of a form. An application is also a form—it is a written expression of someone’s desire to participate in an event, organization, or program.

What is a form document?

Form documents are the backbone of the administrative process. For that reason, they have existed in some way throughout history. Forms compile the registration data of residents, customers, students, donors, or any group with a relationship to a business, government, school, or organization, and facilitate future retrieval.

Forms that are well designed often go unnoticed. When forms are simple, understandable, and collect the required information, life goes on. When forms are poorly designed or allowed to get out of date, organizations often hastily append new forms rather than take the time to revise the original. Bureaucracy ensues!

There are also types of form documents that lie between printed documents and web forms. These forms are typically in PDF format but can sometimes be in Word (.doc) or other common formats. PDF form documents are an on-screen version of a printed form. They are often delivered electronically to the respondent (e.g. via web download or email). They may be printed, filled out, scanned into another PDF, and returned electronically.

What is a form in HTML or an HTML form?

When you see a contact form on a web page, the input boxes and options are displayed using the HTML contact form markup and CSS. What you might call a “question” or a “blank” on a printed form is known as a “placeholder” or “field” or “form input” on a web form. HTML looks the same on any web page until further programming is used to personalize the look. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) offers endless possibilities for adjusting the colors, fonts, and sizes of form elements.

What is a form for a database?

After using HTML and CSS to make a visually appealing web form, the information submitted in the placeholders needs to know where to go. For this reason, you will need a web server with an SQL database and PHP programming knowledge to process the record from the web form and save it in your database. Tip: Check our guide about data management to learn more about turning your data into valuable business decisions. Did you know you can create online forms that link to your database using our PHP form builder? You can try it for free.

Printed forms vs. web forms

Although the traditional printed document form will remain a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, more and more paper will be replaced by web page forms and other formats made for screens. While the advantages of the web form outnumber those of a printed form, let’s be reminded of the advantages of hard copies.

It’s a digital world. Why are printed forms still around?

  • Easy to save for later - Some forms aren’t meant to be completed immediately. A printed document is easy to take and complete at a later time without having to locate the same website or program again.

  • Readable as long as the paper lasts - As long as paper files are preserved, there are no issues with being able to read the data many years later. Today’s librarians and historians struggle to read work communication stored on floppy disks from the 1980s and 1990s. Although Excel and other data mechanisms we use today are designed for portability, it is not impossible that they will become difficult to parse at some time in the future.

  • Authenticity - Although digital signatures are gaining wider acceptance, there are contracts (such as marriage), affidavits, and other solemn occasions wherein a handwritten signature is the only way to go.

  • No internet connection required - Paper forms can be completed and read anywhere offline. But filling them can take longer than using an online form.

Most of the time, these advantages do not outweigh the speed and organization gained by replacing print with web forms. When the required information can be collected online via a web form, everybody wins. The earth wins through reduced use of paper. Communication is instant, and data entry needs are vastly reduced after the submissions come in. On the web, it makes no difference what kind of computer is used and no special software applications are needed to display and use a form. In fact, in today’s mobile-dependent world, web forms have evolved to work on mobile devices and are responsive (adaptable) to most screen resolutions.

Some additional web form advantages we take for granted:

  • Web forms check themselves for completeness - Web forms can check themselves to make sure the most important fields are not left blank, and that the right type of information is entered. jQuery, or just straight JavaScript, can help validate the information that is typed in each placeholder.

  • Submission confirmation - Web forms improve customer service. Whereas with paper forms there is little proof that the form was received, web forms have confirmation emails that acknowledge every submission.

  • Automatic storage and analysis of submitted data - With the right configuration, web forms can be immediately stored in a database. Unlike printed documents, no human needs to be involved in processing the forms one by one.

What is a form builder?

Did the preceding talk of SQL databases, PHP, web servers, and JavaScript programming make the move to web forms look like a distant dream? It turns out there is no need for direct knowledge of these technologies! Nowadays, even people with programming skills don’t want to take the time to hand-code forms. Instead, people from zero to expert technical knowledge use what’s called a form builder—a software-based tool that helps users build digital forms with minimum or no coding. Many form builders go well beyond easy form creation, offering form templates, graphical reports, payment processing, and much more.

To find out the best form builder that can meet your needs, try 123FormBuilder for free. This web form builder is a great choice for anyone because it features a user-friendly drag-and-drop editor, many customizable features, and multiple publishing options. With over 2,000 form templates to start from, even a beginner can publish an effective, standards-compliant form to the web.

The power of a web form builder doesn’t end with the compelling web page on your website. 123FormBuilder integrates with applications you are probably using already, including Google Drive, MailChimp, and SalesForce. Your forms can even partner up with the likes Square, PayPal, and Stripe to process payments with confidence.

You can do more than you think! Sign up and find out. It’s free!


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