Creating Rapid Interactive Forms In Adobe Acrobat

One of the many uses of PDF files is to offer a way for people to gather information via an interactive form. Acrobat has some nifty features for creating such forms, distributing them and tracking responses.

The PDF format is a great choice for forms since it will allow the user to see the form exactly as it was created. Web forms, by contrast, can vary depending on the operating system and browser software being used.

There is also immediacy and flexibility of delivery. The form can be emailed to a group of users at the same time. The delivery of the form then becomes a single operation. PDF forms can also be distributed via CDs and DVDs.

The ability to create forms has long been a feature of Adobe Acrobat. However, Adobe Acrobat 9 takes form creation to a new level in terms of ease and sophistication.

Acrobat has traditionally been a magpie application, relying on other applications to create all of its content. Now, however, forms can be created in Acrobat based on a wide variety of pre-created templates: invoices, timesheet, expenses etc.

As with previous versions of Acrobat, forms created in other packages can be used as the starting point for an Acrobat form. Acrobat will even automatically recognise the form layout and generate form fields automatically.

You can also use a printed form as the basis for an interactive PDF form. Just choose the Scan From Paper option when creating your new form.

Once you have the basic form created, you can add in all the standard form controls. In addition to text fields, PDF forms support combo boxes, option buttons, checkboxes and, of course, submit buttons.

Another new feature in Acrobat is to create a form which allows Acrobat Reader users to save form data when they have filled in the form. (This feature is normally only available with a full version of Acrobat.) To activate this facility, just choose Enable Usage Rights in Acrobat Reader from the Advanced menu.

To send the form to group of recipients via email, just choose Distribute Form from the Form menu. A Microsoft Outlook address book can be used to generate a mailing list or you can just type or paste in a list of recipients.

Returned forms are saved in a special Acrobat file called a dataset. When users complete the form and email it back to you, you simply double-click on the attached form. Acrobat opens a special window marked Add Completed Form to Data Set.

Once all the forms have been returned and the data added to the dataset, you just open the dataset and export it as a CSV (comma separated values) file. This format is compatible with programs like Excel and Access which can then be used to store and analyse responses to your forms.

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