Working with spreadsheet form definitions 1: Creating and uploading

There are two ways to design forms in SurveyCTO. You can use the online form designer, which is easy-to-use, straightforward, and well-organized. But, you can also design forms in a form definition spreadsheet, which can be both faster to use and faster to navigate. Form definition spreadsheets are exactly what they sound like, a way to design forms in a spreadsheet application such as Excel or Google Sheets. You can check out an example here.


Some of the advantages of using a spreadsheet include:

    • View your entire form and all details on one page
    • Collaborate live using Google Drive and other cloud services
    • Easily see, edit, and copy entire fields, field properties, and choices
    • Make use of spreadsheet formulas to optimize your design
    • And so much more!
For more advantages, check out our blog post on tips and tricks for efficient form design in Google Sheets (many of the advantages in that blog post will also work in other spreadsheet applications, such as Excel).

In this article series, you will learn everything you need to know about using a form definition spreadsheet. There is a lot to learn, so take your time, and don't feel you need to learn everything at once.

Table of contents

Part 1: Creating and uploading a form definition spreadsheet

  1. Creating a form definition spreadsheet
    1. Starting a new form
    2. Downloading an existing form
      1. From the Design tab
      2. From the online form designer
    3. More tips
  2. Uploading the form definition
    1. Add new form
    2. Update an existing form
      1. From the Design tab
      2. From the online form designer

Part 2: The survey sheet

  1. Default fields
  2. Adding a new field
  3. Adding groups
  4. Organizing your fields
  5. Adding other properties

Part 3: The choices and settings sheets

  1. choices sheet
    1. Creating choice lists
    2. Using choice lists
  2. settings sheet

1. Creating a form definition spreadsheet

To start working in a form definition spreadsheet, you will of course need an actual spreadsheet file. Follow the steps below to retrieve a spreadsheet you can use to design your form.

1.1 Starting a new form

While you are welcome to start your form from a blank spreadsheet, we strongly recommend using a form definition spreadsheet template. The template includes all of the most popular field properties, automated formatting, and so much more. To create a new template, follow these steps:

  1. On the Design tab of your server console, click a plus on the left. add_form.png
  2. Click Start new form.
  3. Enter a form title. The form ID will be automatically generated.
    Optional: If you would like your form to be encrypted, set Advanced options to ON, and make sure Do you want this form's data to be encrypted? is selected. You will then be able to upload the public key file in the next step.
  4. Click Next.
  5. Instead of clicking Edit online, set Advanced download options to ON.
  6. Click either Download to computer or Download to Google Drive.
    1. If you click Download to computer, the Excel file will download.
    2. If you click Download to Google Drive, if you have not done this before, you will be asked to sign into Google Drive. Once your account is confirmed, the file will be created in your main Google Drive. In the popup that appears, click the name of the form in blue to open that form in your Google Drive.


1.2 Downloading an existing form

If you already have a form stored on your server that you would like to edit in a spreadsheet form definition, there are two ways to create a form definition spreadsheet for that form:

1.2.1 From the Design tab

  1. On the Design tab of your server console, go to the form.
  2. Click Download.
  3. Click Form files.
  4. In the Deployed form version box (or the Draft form version box), click Spreadsheet form definition. The Excel file will automatically download.


Note: If you prefer working in Google Sheets, open the online form designer using the Edit button, then follow the steps below.

1.2.2 From the online form designer

  1. In the online form designer, click the Save button on the top bar.
  2. Click Download form definition.
  3. Click either Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.


1.3 More tips

  • Instead of following these steps every time, you can store a form definition spreadsheet template, and make a copy of it every time you would like to start a new form. You can also create a copy of an existing form, and work from there. If you use this method, make sure you change the form title and ID on the settings sheet, which we'll discuss later.


  • If you are creating a multi-language form, it may be easier to create the form in the online form designer, add the other languages from the Form settings, then export the form definition. But of course, you can always add other languages directly to the form definition spreadsheet.

Once your form definition spreadsheet is ready, you can open it and start creating your form! The spreadsheet will have six sheets (tabs), and you can click on each one to switch between them. The last three are helper sheets that don't affect your form, but you can check them out for reference and tips, and learn more about how to use the spreadsheet to design your form.

The actual design happens in the first three sheets: survey, choices, and settings. We will discuss the purpose of each sheet and how to update them in the next two parts of this series.


2. Uploading the form definition

Once your form definition spreadsheet is ready, it's time to deploy it to your server!

2.1 Add a new form

To add a new form from an existing form definition spreadsheet, check out our support article on deploying form definitions. For practice, try deploying this sample form to your server.

2.2 Update an existing form

2.2.1 From the server console

If your form is already on the server, and you have a new version ready in a spreadsheet, follow these steps to upload the new version of that form:

  1. On the Design tab, scroll to the form you would like to update.
  2. Click Upload. upload-button.png
  3. Select the form definition spreadsheet. If you previously uploaded the form using Google Sheets, it may already be selected.
  4. Click Upload.

You can learn more in our documentation on updating an existing form.

2.2.2 From the online form designer

This can be helpful if you are testing your form in the form inspector.

  1. In the online form designer, at the top, click Upload. ofd_upload.png
  2. Select the form definition. If you previously uploaded the form using Google Sheets, it may already be selected.
  3. Click Upload.

Continue to part 2 to learn about the survey sheet, and check out part 3 to learn about the choices and settings sheets.

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