How to Send a Form by Email

Let your software handle the hard work of collecting form responses

Focused woman working at digital tablet in cafe
Hero Images / Getty Images

For an online form to work, it must be hosted by a server that runs algorithms to branch the form, compute responses, and log metadata. Because email servers cannot execute the programs that perform these functions, you cannot rely solely on email to develop and calculate a form. Instead, you can only use email to notify people about a new form or configure an existing form to transmit responses to the form developer by email.

Many years ago, some email programs included form-generation tools that, when the form was completed, returned the results to a reply-to address. Because of the significant security vulnerabilities of these products, they've (appropriately) virtually disappeared from the market.

Constructing a Form to Send Responses by Email

If you're the developer of the form, configure the software you use to send each respondent's individual answers to you as fields within an email.

Popular online form developers include:

  • Google Forms: A comprehensive form-development tool that integrates with Drive.
  • Microsoft Forms: A robust, feature-rich tool — free with a Microsoft Account — that's optimized for subsequent analysis in Excel.
  • Zoho Forms: A well-rounded tool that plugs cleanly with the other services that Zoho offers to small businesses.
  • Typeform: A more elegant take on forms, emphasizing visual appeal and ease-of-use for respondents.
  • Cognito Form: A great tool for people who require advanced conditional formatting within their forms.
  • Contact Form 7: Available within the WordPress content management system, CF7 integrates form-collection tools into your blog or website.

Although each development tool uses different settings, in general, most of them support emailing as a solution.

It's usually better to avoid emailing form responses — instead, let the tool aggregate answers. There's little value to creating a form then having to manually collate dozens or hundreds of indivdual emailed responses when the tool can track answers for you.

Send a Link to a Form by Email

Instead of sending the contents of a form by email, send your recipients a hyperlink to the form's landing page. Every form developed through a form-development tool includes a unique URL. Send the URL — but, if you wish, add additional context, like instructions or your privacy and data protection policies.

Submit Form Responses by Email

Sometimes organizations still rely on paper forms or forms that can be answered electronically but not through the web. To respond to them by email, the most straightforward solution is to complete the form by hand, then scan it as a PDF document. Email that PDF to the person tabulating responses.

The full version of Adobe Acrobat includes form-designing tools that allow a "paper" form in PDF format to be filled on a computer, with the results transmitted by email. Although Acrobat is expensive, if you need to flip between paper and electronic documentation, it's a great tool — its emailing capability relies on each person's computer to launch the default email program to complete the transmission process.

Alternatively, you could snap a photo of each page of the form, then embed those images in a text document, then send that text document. Such a process creates a lot of rigamarole for the person to answer the questions, though. If you're the person designing a form, focus on a process that minimizes friction and unnecessary work for the people who will respond to you.