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Mobile Data Collection toolbox

5.6.1 Online form builder vs XLSForm

There are two ways to design a form depending on your IT skills:

  1. A basic user can use an online form builder (such as KoBoToolbox). It is easier to use but generally less complete in terms of features.
  2. More advanced profiles can directly use the XLSForm format to create and code an XLS file that will be imported to an online MDC platform (such as KoBoToolbox, ODK Central, SurveyCTO, ONA, etc.) (see tutorials related to XLSForm).
Tool XLSForm (Excel) Online Form Builder (KoBoToolbox, ODK Build)
User-friendlyness ~≈ V
Internet connection not required V X
Advanced functions/ features V X
Compatibility KoBoToolbox, ONA, SurveyCTO, etc. KoBoToolbox, ONA, SurveyCTO, etc.󠇫

Whenever possible, it is recommended to use the XLSForm format which offers more possibilities than the online form builder. For instance, here are a few limitations of using the form builder :

  • It is not possible to edit question types once a question is done. You can’t for example turn a select_one question to a select_from_one_file or a select_many
  • Calculation can’t be used in non-calculate question types (for example to use dynamic defaults)
  • It is not possible to dynamically set the number of iterations of a repeat group - like how many people in the household, and then repeat the household roster by that number
  • Some form styles are not available for example Enketo theme grid.

However, the online form builder is also an effective way to start designing survey, especially if they are not too complex. Here is an Overview of creating and managing projects in KoBoToolbox. To know more about what you can do in the KoBoToolbox online builder and if it is enough for your actual purpose you have an overview of all the questions types currently available here.

These solutions are not mutually exclusive, for example you can switch to XLSForm after you have started to create your form on KoBoToolbox by uploading your project (see section 5.6.2 Getting started with the form builder - How to adapt an existing XLSForm). However, it is not recommended to switch too often from KoBoToolbox to XLSForm and back, as this can lead to bugs and version problems.