The advantage of PDF forms over others

by Conor Smith | February 13, 2018

There are many different types of forms that people can fill out. From paper, Microsoft Word, PDF, to HTML there is no end to the choice you have when you are looking to create a form for data collection. Even though paper forms sometimes may be good enough, this article aims to discuss the advantages PDF forms over all others mentioned above.

Paper Microsoft Word HTML PDF
Print-Friendly X X X O
Security X O O O
Cross-Platform X X O O
Archiving X X X O
Linked Database X O O O

Print Friendly

For Microsoft Word documents, depending on printer settings form margins may reflow and cause problems to the right-hand side of documents. The result is content shifted to another page, or not displaying at all! The same can be said for HTML coded forms if they have not been designed correctly for each browser so testing is hugely important to the process.

PDF forms do not adjust to the printers meaning that margins do not get shifted like in Microsoft Word documents. Known as the ‘What You See Is What You Get’ or WYSIWYG format, PDF has high standards of rendering and viewing. It means that documents print as they look on the screen, leaving no surprises in the output.


Companies need to be careful when using forms as departments, or individuals, may edit them to suit their perceptions. With Microsoft forms created using tables or Visual Studio, there are ways to make edits to forms that have been filled in, leading to a breach in security. According to Polity, documents or evidence in an electronic format used as evidence in court proceedings, need to be authenticated, i.e., the evidence must be an unaltered original version of the electronic document or data message for it to be admissible in court. With HTML forms, depending on how the form is saved or exported, security can be an issue also.

PDFs satisfy that need. PDFs have the ability to flatten information once a form has been filled in. In a PDF form, there are two layers, the form layer where all fields already containing data exists, and another layer where the user can fill out their information. When the receiver recovers a form they can choose to flatten it, which will merge the two layers into one thereby making all text, images and shapes on both layers static. The PDF will still look the same as before, but the user can no longer fill out any fields or edit the information in the form. Digital Signatures can provide further security within PDF documents as a proof and evidence of consent.


Companies may not use one document management system, i.e., they do not stick with one solution, so they can run into viewing difficulties while using the .doc format for viewing forms and documents. Microsoft documents require Microsoft Office or an open source alternative to open and edit, which costs money. Although Microsoft Office has historically been the most used document management system, in recent years other solutions like Google Drive, WPS Office and Apple iWork have become an alternative which companies have started to use instead of Microsoft Office.

There are many PDF viewers which are downloadable for free. This ensures that anyone you send the file to will be able to see the full version of your document on any device while still accessing a lot of the same functionality they would get on a desktop. Plus PDF the available on all operating systems! This means that viewing is consistent across all platforms no matter what device you are viewing documents on. HTML forms are similar to PDF in terms of cross-platform functionality, but again they need to be testing on various platforms and browsers to ensure that they function well on them.


Microsoft Word does not provide a standard archiving system that allows for easy recovery and management. With HTML forms, archiving is nearly impossible due to file formats and the location for archiving. Archiving is very important when collecting user data as this information may be used again in the future. Filing it in a safe place where it can be found easily is a significant step in the document management process.

Archiving is secure with PDF/A. PDF/A stores structured objects (for example text, vector graphics, etc.), allowing for full-text search in an entire archive database. Metadata stores information like article title, author, creation date, keywords, etc. can be embedded in a PDF file, automatically classified, without requiring human intervention.

Linked Database

To connect your form to a database in Microsoft you need Windows Forms which is only compatible with Windows computers. With HTML Coded forms you will need an API to ‘plug’ your form into your database.

PDF forms can also be submitted online and the data parsed or exported for use in a database. The process takes very little time and alleviates the need for manual data entry.

So there you have it, five advantages of using PDF forms for collect information.

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