Forms, forms, everywhere

Unless you work in the factory of the future the chances are you have forms — if you are like me over 1100 of them. So what is a form and how does it fit into our document management system?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines form (amongst other things) as “a printed or typed document with blank spaces for insertion of required or requested information.”

We use forms to tell what information needs to be captured, and usually to record when and by whom. Forms have the following advantages in our document management system:

  • The user has to write less
  • The user is told or reminded what information has to be supplied
  • There is uniformity
  • Information is collected in writing and so can be reexamined later. Forms almost always have a signature field to allow someone to take responsibility

It is useful to note here that electronic systems do basically the same thing.

Returning to our three major types of documents:

  • Functional Documents provide instructions so people can perform tasks and make decisions safely effectively, compliantly and consistently. This usually includes things like procedures, process instructions, protocols, methods and specifications. Many of these need some sort of training decision. Functional documents should involve a process to ensure they are up-to-date, especially in relation to current practices and relevant standards (periodic review)
  • Records provide evidence that actions were taken and decisions were made in keeping with procedures. This includes batch manufacturing records, logbooks and laboratory data sheets and notebooks. Records are a popular target for electronic alternatives.
  • Reports provide specific information on a particular topic on a formal, standardized way. Reports may include data summaries, findings and actions to be taken.

A form is a functional document that once printed and has data entered onto it becomes a record. That record then needs to be managed and has all sorts of good documentation and data integrity concerns including traceability and retention (archiving).

It is helpful here to also differentiate between a template and a form. A template is a form that is specifically used to build another document — an SOP template or a protocol template for example. Usually the template gives you a document that then goes through its own lifecycle.

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