Forms in web pages offer plenty of advantages over their application or paper-based counterparts. But they're not without limitations. Used for gathering data online, web forms offer convenience and speed for both the user and the form owner. However, they can present problems from a usability perspective, particularly when considering Internet access and form size.
Compared with paper forms, web forms--once built--are faster to distribute, and you don't have to wait to get a batch printed. Instead of sending out forms to a list of addresses or handing them out to a room full of students, you can simply ask respondents to visit the form URL. Also, unlike some applications, users don't have to spend time downloading and installing web forms. The fields are embedded in the web page, ready to be completed.
Web forms make data easier to sort. Responses are gathered digitally, so you don't have to transcribe handwritten notes into the computer. However, you may still need to connect your web form to a database to interpret and categorize the data. According to the Novell Tech Center, simple HTML web forms often rely on scripts to process information and can usually handle only basic data. A web page form by itself is unlikely to sort information automatically.
Convenience and Cost
The fact that a web form can be submitted instantly means less time waiting for feedback. For the user, web forms make it easier to order a product, complete a questionnaire or register for a service online. For the form owner, that means rapid turnaround on product orders or survey data collection. According to the Information Technology Center at the University of Tennessee, web forms can also save money. You save on initial printing costs by using web forms, and they can be used repeatedly. Simple forms in web pages are also less likely to cost money than complex applications.
Limited Computer Access
Although web forms are convenient in terms of speed and data sorting, there is a drawback in that users need both a computer and Internet access. This can also mean that the form is inaccessible to people who have slow or unreliable Internet connections. In some cases, erratic Internet availability could lead to lost data if the connection is interrupted before the form is finished.
According to usability expert Jakob Nielsen, when a web form goes beyond two screens in length, it may be better to use an application instead. However, many forms online don't conform to this advice and stretch to several screens. It can lead to user frustration, form abandonment or wrongly submitted information.
Form abandonment is a particular problem in ecommerce website design. This occurs when a potential customer leaves the process midway through completing an online form. Complex or badly designed forms can cause people to leave your site, rather than enter their details.
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