Collect data with Adobe Acrobat

Note: This is a repost of an article published in Australian Personal Computer (APC Mag) in January 2010

Adobe Acrobat Professional can do much than just create static PDFs. The Professional version creates interactive forms that collect data.

To start creating your form, open up Acrobat and select the Forms->Start Forms Wizard then choose between one of the options:

An existing electronic document – Converts a Word, Excel or other file types to PDF, then automatically detects & creates interactive form fields based on the existing artwork. You can then modify or add extra fields.

A paper form – Acrobat will use your connected scanner to scan a paper document, recognise the text with OCR, then recognize and creates interactive form fields based on the existing artwork.

No existing form – Windows users can open the bundled LiveCycle Designer application. LiveCycle Designer allows you to either design a form from scratch by dragging and dropping form objects or using one of the many bundled templates

Regardless which method you use above, ensure that you name each field with a meaningful name, as it will make it easier for you to understand the data later. Acrobat makes it easy for you to distribute and organise responses rather than you doing so manually.

Once you have your finished form open in Acrobat, select Forms -> Distribute Form.. to start the forms distribution wizard. There are various ways that Acrobat allows you to collect responses by either to using your own internal server (including SharePoint & network folders) if the form is only for people within your organisation, collect manually via email option or using Acrobat.com. Acrobat.com is a online service run by Adobe that manages the form distribution & collection of your form & data. Select this option and click next.

To use Acrobat.com you need a free Adobe ID. Enter your Adobe ID if you have one, otherwise click on the “Create Adobe ID” link and after creating a new ID click next. Now enter the email addresses of the people you wish to complete the form. Note that each recipient will only require the free Adobe Reader. Customise the message, choose the access level and click send.

Acrobat will open up the Tracker, which will report how many responses you have received, provide links to the form in case you forget where you saved it and allow you to do things like email recipients who haven’t responded. Once a form has been distributed, Tracker will sit in the notification area and let you know when responses are received. Note that the default setting is for Tracker to look for new form data once per hour.

Meanwhile each of your recipients will receive an email from Acrobat.com with a link to the form and instructions on how to complete it. The form can be downloaded to their desktop and even filled out in multiple stages. Adobe Reader will allow forms distributed this way to save the data in the form. Once complete, the user selects “Submit Form” from the purple information bar above the form. They will be asked to enter their name & email address, then the form is submitted back directly to Acrobat.com

Open Tracker, select your form from the list on the left hand side, then select “View Responses”. A new PDF will open up that holds all the collected form data from each user in the one file. You will be able to see the form data in a grid format and use the column names to sort the data. Double click on the PDF icon next to each record to see the data in the original form, then click on the Home icon in the top left to get back to the original view.

Click on the Export button on the left of the data grid to export the collected form data as either XML or CSV for opening in a spreadsheet, completing the data capture process.

Acrobat really takes control of the form authoring, distribution and collation of form data, making it easy for you to collect the information you need.