Electronic forms are common and amazingly useful. Their advantages include the ease of compilation, ease of navigation, and the ability to have their results distributed throughout cyberspace to e-mail in-boxes anywhere in the world. However, there are tangible disadvantages to electronic forms which may negate the legitimacy of their use.
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Sampling Issues for Filers
Electronic forms sent out by e-mail to a group of people might be good to get the word out about a survey or product, but there are sampling disadvantages in doing so. Little might be known about the population that is gaining access to the form, other than geographic location. Blind sampling can skew results and waste time.
Lack of Participation
A developer can spend a lot of time creating an electronic form, but it is no good if it is not filled out. Many people view these forms as spam, and avoid them all together. If you do not know where an e-mail is coming from, especially if it contains an electronic form requesting information, chances are, you will delete it.
Lying on Electronic Forms
Filling out an electronic form is often perceived as more anonymous than filling out a paper form. This is because a person is essentially "hiding" behind the computer. While it might enable someone to tell a more detailed version of the truth, research shows that it is more likely that people will inflate or deflate the accuracy of an answer.
Building a campaign solely around electronic forms is dangerous because of the likelihood of data corruption. Natural disasters have wiped out entire databases. Electronic school records were completely lost in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, for example. In addition, data can be corrupted during transfer from the person's computer to the company's database.
While electronic forms are faster, easier to compile and easier to send out, they come with real risks to those receiving the information. For research purposes, using both paper and electronic forms is best. For businesses using forms for client and employee data, a secure backup system and periodic maintenance should be enforced to minimise the risk of losing electronic information.
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