Monthly Archives: July 2009

How to create a form for people to add information to your spreadsheet

Rather than asking people to edit a whole spreadsheet, you can make it easier by creating a form for them to add particular information by answering questions.

To do this, open your spreadsheet in Google Docs and click on Form > Create a form.

A new window will appear containing a form that you can edit, with some information automatically added.

If you roll over any of the questions you will see buttons for you to edit, duplicate or delete it. You can also edit the form title and description and there are various extra options across the top.

Along the bottom of the form you will see a web address (URL) for the form that you can send to people or copy and paste into an investigation update. When a person clicks on this they will be able to fill in the form and the information will be added to your spreadsheet.

Once you’ve finished, just close the window. 

If you need the address of your form again open your spreadsheet and go to Form > Go to live form… this will open the form – copy the URL from the web address bar as you would with any other webpage.

If you want to edit the form again just open your spreadsheet, click on Form > Edit form…

Allowing others to edit your spreadsheet – and tracking what happens

Following on from the previous post on creating and publishing a spreadsheet online, here’s how you allow others to add to that, and how you track what happens:

To allow others to edit your spreadsheet, open it and click on Share (in the top right area) then click See who has access…

A new window will open – towards the bottom of that it will say ‘Sign-in is required to view this item’ which means users need a Google account to see it. Click ‘Change‘ next to that.
3 options will pop up:
  • Always require sign-in – users need to be signed in to their Google account to see this
  • Let people view without signing in – users do not need a Google account to see it, but cannot edit 
  • Let people edit without signing in – users can edit the spreadsheet regardless of whether they have a Google account or not

This last option is best if you want to allow others to add information to your spreadsheet

But what if someone deletes all my data? Setting up alerts

On the same window you can set up the spreadsheet so you are alerted whenever anyone makes changes.

Click on My notification settings.

You will be presented with a number of options for when you are notified of any changes

If a change is made that you don’t like (e.g. someone deletes all data) go to File > Revision history

The spreadsheet will now have the latest change highlighted and above the top row of cells will be a number of new buttons – click on Older to see how the spreadsheet looked before the last change that was made.

Then click Revert to this one to change the spreadsheet back to how it looked then (You will be asked to confirm – click OK).

If this isn’t the version you want to revert to you can keep clicking Older to go back in the spreadsheet’s history. The Newer button will take you in the other direction, to more recent versions.

Making it really easy – allowing updates by form

There’s a better way to allow users to add data to your spreadsheet – creating a form. I explain how to do this here.

Creating and publishing a spreadsheet online

For some investigations it will be useful to create a public spreadsheet of information. There are 3 main reasons why:

  • It’s a better way of displaying data than using a sentence of text
  • It means people can easily see where the gaps are – and fill them in
  • It also allows people to do interesting things with the data, like visualise it, or mix it up (‘mashup’) with information from elsewhere, e.g. maps

One of the most popular tools for creating public spreadsheets of data is Google Spreadsheets, part of Google Docs. Continue reading

What to do if you have documents you want to upload

If you have a document relating to your investigation that is not already online – for instance a PDF, a Word document, a scanned document, or a letter, here is some advice on how to get it into the investigation:

1. Get it onto your computer if it isn’t already

If your evidence is physical – e.g. a printout – then use a scanner to get it onto your computer. Many company photocopiers now offer this facility as well.

2. Upload it to a document-sharing website

There are a number of these. Scribd is a very useful place to store PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations. You will need to create a (free) account first. Once you do, just follow the instructions given here. You can also use the service to create backup copies of documents that are already online.

The biggest advantage of Scribd is that people can label and annotate documents, making it easier for others to spot things you might not see. It also makes it easy to embed documents in other webpages so you could display the document in a blog post about it.

Google Docs will also allow you to upload the same types of documents – you’ll find links on how to do this via this page.

If you have scanned in a document and it is an image then you’ll need an image-sharing website. There are dozens of these but the best-known and most widely used is Flickr. Again, you’ll need to create a free account and then go to the upload page. You can also upload by sending them to a special email address – more information on that can be found here.

Perhaps the easiest way to get your documents online is to send them in an email to – this will create a blog for you with your document ’embedded’ in your first entry. If you send a number of images Posterous will even create a gallery for you. There’s more information on Posterous’ FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

3. Link to it on your Investigation Page

Once your document is online you just need to link to it from the investigation page.

  • If you’ve used Posterous a link will have been emailed to you.
  • On Scribd make sure you are logged on and go to – then click on the name of the document you want to link to. You will be taken to the page with your document on it. Copy the address of that webpage.
  • On Google Docs open your document and click on Share (in the top right) and select ‘Publish as a web page‘ – a window should appear with further options. Select these as you wish and you should be presented with a web address to copy. More information here.
  • On Flickr log on to your account, click on You and then Your Photostream to see your images. Click on the image you need and copy the address of the webpage.

Now go to your investigation and the challenge that relates to your documents (e.g. ‘Add background information’). Accept it if you haven’t already and in the Add an update box that appears type a description of your document. In the Web link box paste or type the web address your document has been published to.