Forms: Part 4: Excel vs. Word vs. PDF vs. Online

What format works best for a form?  This depends on your audience and how they will be using the form – each method has some pros and cons.

Excel:  Best if the form requires complex calculations.  Formatting can be an issue.  Users will need to have Excel (or an equivalent) on their machine to open and use the form.

Word: Most flexible in terms of layout.  May not print as expected based on amount of user input.  As with Excel, requires valid program to open.  Can end up being a large document.  May be difficult to “extract” information from the form.  Works well for forms that require a signature as it is easily printed.

PDF: Best for controlled layout and printing.  Acrobat reader is free and widely available.  Requires special program to set up.  More difficult to modify than other methods.

Online: Powerful and flexible with the most options for organizing information and exporting data.  Requires some planning and training to build and deploy.

Bonus:  Macros.   Word and Excel both have options for adding in additional functionality to the documents though macros.  Due to some nefarious users in the past, macros are still regarded with suspicion by some people and systems.  Some users will not open a macro-enabled file – and some applications won’t let them.

Bonus 2:  Need to gather fees for an event registration?  Don’t use any of these methods.  Instead, contact a member of the UA Webteam or the Student Accounts office for more information on how to proceed.