I was the exhibition secretary for the Quilters’ Guild of NSW for three years. The not-so-fun part of this assignment was the gruelling hours/days/weeks! of data entry, transcribing and processing hundreds of handwritten entry forms, each with 30+ fields of unique information. At the time, I thought there has got to be a better system and I assure you there is!† I urge every 21st century exhibition administrator to offer an online entry form for efficiency and accuracy to benefit entrants and organisers alike. Here are some resources to get you started.
Ten Benefits of Online Entry Forms
Benefits of a thoughtfully executed online entry system include:
- The data entry task is transferred to the entrant, let’s call her Zenevieva, who knows how to spell her name and address better than anyone else. Any typos are the entrant’s!
- Zenevieva doesn’t have to try to squash her handwritten reply in the printed forms and there is no need to decipher her poor handwriting, crossings out and arrows. (Alternatively Zenevieva doesn’t have to try and copy a PDF form into a format that she can easily type into.)
- The administrator can specify key fields as “required” thereby eliminating the hassles caused by incomplete entry forms.
- The administrator gets a notification as soon as Zenevieva’s entry comes in and all data is collected in a central location reducing double or triple handling.
- Data can be exported to other applications such as e-mail programs.
- There is a clear cut-off time and Zenevieva and other entrants can submit entries right up to deadline.
- Electronic payment can be integrated into the form.
- Zenevieva does not have to make slides, burn CDs, print out images etc or purchase the consumables required to create such images.
- Zenevieva does not have to stand in line at the Post Office or worry about date-stamping and delivery times.
- Zenevieva receives prompt confirmation that her entry has been received, together with a full copy of her submission, and can get back to creating.
A few years ago, exhibition administrators had to engage a programmer to custom-code online entry forms. Now there are other economical, reliable off-the-shelf options available. For example, for a simple online form, I often use a combination of free WordPress Plugins – Contact Form 7 and Contact Form DB such as in the online entry form for the World Quilt Competition 2014 (Australian Entries ) closing on 19 May:
Third-party solutions such as Formstack, JotForm, Logiforms, SurveyMonkey and WuFoo offer forms and templates that can be customised and embedded on any website and may be suitable for more complex, multi-page, conditional forms. Many other form builder applications and plugins are available across a range of platforms.
Whatever system you choose, make sure that collected data can be exported into a spreadsheet for further sorting and analysis. This is such a time-saver! After I had made my selection of textile works for the Living Colour! exhibition, it was a straightforward matter to copy key details from the entry database into an e-mail program (eg Mailchimp) to send out timely, personalised notifications to entrants.
Common objections to online entry forms are usually based on mild to raging technophobia. I understand there are pockets of the population that are not confident with computers. My message is it’s not that hard and you and Zenevieva can learn.
From an administrator’s perspective:
- both Contact Form 7 and Contact Form DB offer basic documentation, FAQ pages and peer support via WordPress forums; and
- Many paid services offer comprehensive tutorials, FAQs, a support forum and one-on-one support*.
If this is still beyond your own technical expertise, it is not too difficult to find a service provider to convert your hard copy form into an online form for a modest fee.† (Contact me!)
For Zenevieva and other entrants, I encourage you to take the following steps:
- Carefully review the entry requirements and guidelines.
- Gather all the information and images required for the exhibition and store in one place;
- Check that your images comply with formatting and size requirements. If your images are over-size, this will often choke the online system and your entry will not get through.† (See my tutorial Seven Easy Ways to Resize Images.)
- Complete the online entry form systematically.
- Allow yourself enough time so that any technical glitches can be addressed before the entry deadline.
- Follow up with the exhibition administrator if you do not receive confirmation that your entry was submitted successfully.
A well-designed online entry form will encourage greater participation. For your next exhibition, make it as easy as possible for artists to submit entries and be kind to your administrators by collecting the data in a way that is able to be analysed and processed efficiently. In my view, going online is the way to go!