What Are eForms?

An eform, also known as a web form, replaces manual paper forms with a simple, web-based document that combines a static template with numerous user-input fields. Eforms are widely used as part of digital transformation efforts across a range of industries, including health care, finance, real estate, and retail.

Information entered into eforms can be easily verified, stored, and processed in a fraction of the time it takes to handle comparable paper forms. Eforms also dramatically reduce costs related to printing, distributing, collecting, and disseminating data from traditional forms; and data can be readily archived in a centralized digital filing cabinet. When eforms are integrated with a digital workflow or task manager, data processing is transparent, accessible, and efficient.

Early versions of eforms were designed to simply replace existing paper forms with digital versions of the same document. While this continues to be a common goal in many applications, the functionality of eforms has expanded to capture information that is used as part of a specific process or processes that make up a comprehensive digital document management strategy.

When Are Eforms Used?

Eforms are largely used in applications that previously relied on paper-based forms to collect data from clients, customers, and other users. Generally speaking, eforms are implemented as part of a larger digitization initiative, or digital transformation, by organizations, educational institutions, governments, health care facilities, and businesses.

Common applications of eforms include web-based tax preparation software that enables users to prepare and file their own income taxes, patient information documents, and customer surveys. Eforms are also used to:

  • Generate and modify purchase orders, expense reports, and job applications
  • Document and track employee training, safety inspections, and certifications
  • Request warranty repairs, place work orders, and document customer feedback
  • Generate employee performance reviews, time sheets, and mileage reports
  • Gather patient information in a health care setting
  • Create digital student progress reports
  • Complete ticket reservations and book hotel rooms
  • Process event registrations
  • Subscribe to newsletters and updates

Eforms can also enable electronic signatures to create a truly digital, paperless transaction when processing documents that are legally binding, such as rental contracts, real estate purchase offers, and consent forms.

How Do e-Forms Work?

With most applications that use eforms, users are directed to a specific URL via a portal hyperlink or link that's embedded within an email or web copy. This link launches the e-form, which users then complete and submit using any compatible internet-connected device.

The data in the e-form is downloaded to the form server, along with any attached files that may be required, such as PDF documents or JPEG images. A number of specific actions may then be triggered, including approvals, appointment scheduling, or order processing.

If the e-form is integrated with other digital systems, the data from the e-form may be automatically transposed into various reports to generate user patterns, identify trends, and improve productivity.

Best Practices When Developing e-Forms

When developing eforms, it's important to focus on collecting the required information while creating a smooth, intuitive user experience.

Use a Single-Column Structure

Eforms that use a standard, left-aligned layout are more intuitive for users than center-aligned layouts, leading to higher completion rates and a better overall user experience. Avoid e-form layouts that involve multiple parallel-positioned fields or other inconsistencies.

Group-Related Information

As with paper forms, eforms should be structured in a way that combines related information. Not only does this feel familiar to users, but it helps to improve the overall quality of the data collected by focusing the user on one specific topic at a time.

Make Use of Auto-Populated Fields

Eforms can be structured in a way that eliminates duplication of user data with the use of auto-populated fields based on prior responses. This feature improves the accuracy of the data while removing any redundancy, which in turn improves the overall user experience.

Use Drop-Down Lists

Whenever possible, make use of drop-down lists that provide users with a limited number of responses to a specific query. Not only are drop-down lists user-friendly because these lists reduce the amount of typing needed to complete a form, they can help eliminate errors and omissions caused by misspelling or user error.

Create a Progress Bar

Lengthy eforms that span multiple pages can quickly overwhelm users, leading to compliance issues. This problem can be mitigated with the addition of a progress bar that gives users a clear visual indication of how far they've progressed, which increases e-form completion rates.

Include a Save Option

Users should have the ability to save their in-progress e-form, particularly if the document involves multiple user input fields or complex information, such as with a mortgage application.

Use Autofill Whenever Possible

Eforms can take advantage of autofill, also called auto-complete, for elements such as the user's phone number, email address, and credit card information. Using this option can speed up form completion while reducing user-input errors.

How eForms Fit Into a Digital Document Management Strategy

Well-executed digital document management systems involve the efficient capture and storage of data in a way that is secure, easy to control, and integrated with other related systems.

The digitization of paper forms is often one of the first steps in transitioning to a digital document management strategy, largely because eforms usually deliver a positive return on investment almost immediately. Integrating well-designed eforms into a digital document management strategy can instantly improve the quality of data collected, slash document processing costs, and provide an organization with a wealth of accessible and relevant data.