Ultimate Guide To Mobile Data Collection
Choosing an app

How to Convert your Paper Form into a Mobile App

Person completing a medical form on paper

What is mobile data collection?

Mobile data collection is the method of capturing any information electronically using a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Switching from paper forms to digital forms is proven to improve data accuracy by 47.5% and reduce the cost of research by 75%.

In settings where there is a fast internet connection and the availability of a computer, an online survey or Electronic Data Capture (EDC) like REDcap or Castor EDC is a powerful resource. But what if you or team will be working on-the-go, moving from location to location and perhaps in settings where there is slow or no internet connection? The solution is a mobile data collection app.

Once you know what information or data you will like to collect comes the task of choosing a data collection mobile app. Here are 7 mobile data collection apps that allow you to build mobile forms and capture data from a tablet or smartphone, even when you are offline. 

Mobile data collection apps will allow you and your team to collect data offline and afterwards uploaded to a server. Capturing data offline requires certain precautions to mitigate the risk of data loss, check out this previous blog post on the best practices for offline data collection.


How to implement a mobile-friendly form?

Once you have chosen a mobile data collection app comes the challenge of converting your paper form or building it on a data collection platform. The following tips have Teamscope app in mind, yet this advice applies for other mobile data collection tools. 

1. Less is more.

Specific changes and challenges are inherent to the conversion of a paper data collection form into a mobile one. Especially for smartphones, smaller screen size and slower typing speed on mobile keyboards may hinder the clarity of the form and the rate of data entry, respectively. 

Furthermore, scrolling endlessly or having to type long answers with a mobile keyboard can be tedious and demotivate your team.  By minimizing the number of fields and data that need to be collected, you can improve the user experience and avoid long unnecessary responses.

In other words, keep your form as short as possible and consider dividing a single questionnaire into multiple ones.

In terms of scale for your research; the minimal file size of data entries means you can store hundreds or even thousands of entries on a single device while working offline.


2. When in doubt, use branching logic

Branch logic is a feature that changes what question or page a respondent sees next based on how they answer the current question. When using a mobile app, this freedom allows you to show/hide specific fields based on previous data inputs. We utilize branch logic to improve the readability of your form as well as make it as visually lean as possible. After all, less is more.

Multiple fields being connected via branching logic



3. Split tables or grids into individual fields

Certain data requires tables or grids. On mobile apps, however, these tables may bring about a series of challenges. If the table has too many columns or a device's horizontal space is too narrow, it may be tedious to scroll horizontally to enter data.

The best solution to this is to think of each cell on a table as an individual form field. For example, if you have the following 2x3 grid, when you build that table for mobile data collection, you will end up with 6 form fields, instead one a single table: 

An example of a grid that has two rows and three columns, being converted into 6 individual fields on a mobile form for better data collection

4. Create sections with titles

When completing a mobile form, especially long ones, users may lose track of where they are within the questionnaire. Helping them know where they will help them reduce mistakes and have an easier time entering data. To support further understanding and clarity within your form, we suggest you use as many titles as possible, and these will automatically create sections for you on Teamscope.   


5. Use an additional text field when requiring "please specify".

Asking to "please specify" when the answer is other is a standard method to expand the universe of answers in single and multiple-choice questions. On paper forms, the space to define will be a dotted line alongside the choice "other". 

On mobile forms, however, the dotted line to specify must be a field in itself.  To achieve this, we suggest you make use of an additional text field that is only displayed when a user selects "other".

6. Consider implementing checklists as a multiple-choice field

Checklists are a great way to go through procedures and serve as great reminders. One of the essential building blocks of mobile forms is multiple-choice questions, so if you need a checklist within your form, you can use a multiple-choice field. Teamscope further supports calculated fields; which means you can have an additional field right below the list that displays the percentage of completion. 


7. Try out emojis within your forms

Mobile forms can quickly become monotonous, and with that, it increases the possibility for mistakes in data collection. A great way to make a form more visual and user-friendly is to use emojis. Emojis can be used within titles as a visual aid to know what section you are in and on scales (e.g. pain) to support the interviewee.


Conclusion

Data collection forms are the fundamental building blocks of clinical and field research. Switching from paper-based data collection to Electronic Data Capture (EDC) is a direct way to reduce project costs, collect data faster and with fewer mistakes. When researching challenging settings, researchers may find that traditional web-based data capture solutions are less handy and thus resort back to paper forms. 

With the help of data capture mobile applications, like Teamscope, researchers can effectively collect data while on-the-go and even in offline settings. Although smartphones and tablets are becoming a more powerful tool from year to year, researchers must also recognize their limitations. These deficiencies are in regards to screen size, data entry speed, and mitigating the risk of data loss in offline locations.

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