I'm working on an application where a user can submit an important document that contains information we need from them. The information contains details such as - event name, event location, duration, etc. I think there are around 20+ fields, depending on the user's preferences; not all of them are required.

What would be the best UX for the user?

A. Simply be able to upload this document in PDF format

B. In addition to being able to upload the PDF document, ask the user to fill out a form that includes fields like event name, location, etc. Most of the items can already be found in the document.

The idea here is for our own staff to not have to manually copy and paste data from the document into our system.

I think idea (A) is great from a user-standpoint. That means that as a user, I don't have to do any of the work. Think about Expensify and being able to scan receipts vs having to manually input each expense.

The downside of (A) though is that it may not be scalable long-term because at some point, our staff won't be able to handle all of this manually. I'm worried about users being spoiled - ie, giving them the easiest solution to their problem during the initial roll out, then asking them to fill out a form in the eventual future.

But that said, this feature is an alpha release, so we don't know if this is actually going to get traction or not. Solution (A) will also save Engineering time by building something simpler.

But with this approach, are we moving backwards?

Think again about Expensify - what if they rolled out their scanning functionality first before the ability to manually input individual expenses?

  • Some sites combine them. Scan it, then present the data to the user for correction. Much lighter burden on the user than re-entering it. In fact I would say if you want them to enter it manually, skip the pdf altogether. Very frustrating otherwise. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 1:41
  • 1
    Don't get me started on scanning PDFs and letting the user correct them. Some recruitment portals do that – I've yet to see one that does it correctly. In one case, I was clocked in as <first name> <city name>, living at <job title> Road in <former employer> city – and not allowed to correct it. Made for some awkward moments during the interview.
    – Johannes
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 7:22
  • Thanks for your responses. I forgot to mention that either way, the PDF is required. So whether we have them fill out a form, manually upload a PDF, or both - the PDF is required.
    – M Bo
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 18:43
  • PDF scanning tech is still pretty hard to use. If I'm going to be correcting it anyway, might as well type it in and verify it from the start. You also give the users an incentive to input accurate data. I agree with Johannnes. Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 4:54

1 Answer 1


Sounds paradoxical, having the user fill out a form might ultimately be more user-friendly.


If you want to process a PDF that has been generated by the user, you can never be sure that it will exactly meet your requirements. It could be illegible, it could be incompletely filled in, or the information could be contradictory or otherwise illogical. Nothing worse than when the user thinks they have uploaded all the information they need and everything is on its way....

...and then your staff can't do anything with it, have to annoy the user with phone calls, or can't complete the data entry and - in the worst case - can't start the following process at all because the required information is missing and can't be obtained timely.

With a manual entry, you can automatically check the information immediately, you can immediately object to incorrect entries and you can immediately request missing information. When the user has filled out the form completely, you can report back "Everything is OK" when sending it, and the user can be sure that everything is really OK. That all data is correct and in the right place, and not just that the PDF was uploaded completely.

(King class would then be, depending on your process, to process the data immediately and give the user feedback on what the next steps are and what wait time they should expect. This is something that is never possible with manual transfer from PDF).

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