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Tech Matters: How to use Google Forms to streamline data collection

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jun 8, 2022

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Leslie Meredith

Companies can become weighed down by their processes and systems, blocking the way to some pretty simple and time-saving solutions. I work for an international events company that invested millions of dollars into new systems designed to efficiently provide critical information. It also aimed to put every division on the same website or content management system platform to streamline the process of updating more than 100 websites. Makes sense, right?

But what happens when the systems don’t talk to each other or can’t perform a fairly routine task? I’ll tell you: nothing. Teams end up doing tasks the old-fashioned way — by hand, which opens the door to human error. That’s precisely what happened over the past six months, not only to our event but to others across the company.

Profile data is needed from thousands of exhibitors worldwide to create online listings, populate event apps and to build listings in an array of event-related printed publications. There was no way to collect the information online and then automatically create a spreadsheet from the data. Every department that needed customer data was cutting and pasting from a number of different spreadsheets from different sources and at different times in the event cycle. Trying to reconcile the data was impossible. We ended up with chaos and customer complaints.

Not again. Forget the fancy systems, for now, the temps hired to collate, proof and post. Instead, let’s try Google. Google Forms are easy to set up and can be connected to a Google Sheet with just one click. Now vast amounts of data can be automatically organized and stored in one document. While you likely don’t have the same use case like me, I’ll bet you’ll find putting this simple solution to work will save you time and frustration, whether you use it in your job, as a member of a club or for research.

To get started, open your Google Drive account, click the “New” button and hover on Google Form to see your choices. You can begin with a blank form, blank quiz or template. Take a look at the templates to see if there is one that is close to your form’s intent; otherwise, choose a blank form.

Building the form happens in the “Questions” tab. You’ll see the first question has been set up for you. Type your question over the words “untitled question” and then select the type of question: Short answer, Paragraph, Multiple choice, Checkboxes, Dropdown, File upload, Linear scale, Multiple choice grid or Checkbox grid. For common contact information such as name, address and phone number, you’ll want to choose “Short answer.” If you want a single response from several options, choose “Multiple choice.” But if you want your respondents to be able to choose more than one response, use “Checkboxes.” “Dropdown” is handy when you have many possible responses like state as part of an address. The list of states will pop up in a window rather than taking up all that space on your form. “Linear scale” provides a rating scale while the grids group related questions together.

You’ll find the interface intuitive and easy to adjust. You can add pictures and videos from the short vertical menu to the left of your form. You can also duplicate questions and then modify them to save time. If you have a long form, consider breaking it into sections by using the double rectangle icon in the right menu. Easily move questions or entire sections by looking for the six-dot array and using it to drag and drop into place. Don’t like a question? Simply select it and hit the trash icon.

It’s a good idea to preview your form as you add elements. Just click the eye icon at the top of the page. This top menu is also where you can choose design elements, including adding a header image, choosing a theme color, background color and font style. If you want to match an existing logo, use a hex color from your logo or other design element and type in the six-digit hex code after clicking the plus button in the theme color section. (If you’re trying to match a color online, use the Google free extension Eyedropper, one I’ve used for years.)

Once the form is correct, click over to the “Responses” tab and then on the Google Sheets green icon. Here you decide where the responses will go, which can be a new spreadsheet or you can link to an existing one in Drive. If you’ve selected a new one, clicking “Create” will take you to it. Before you distribute your form, test it yourself to make sure the responses are exactly the way you need them. Note you can also embed the form on a website by copying the HTML code. Click on the purple “Send” button in the top right corner and choose the angle brackets. You can also specify the width and height of your form before copying the code.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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