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I have Google Forms where users enter information, some of which contains leading zeros (e.g. zip codes, ID numbers).

However, when this data is saved to the Google Sheet, it doesn't treat it as plain text and strips the zero. The form fields are text fields with no validation.

I have tried to format the range of cells containing these values as plain text, but it seems Sheets does not set the formatting as plain text unless there is already text in a cell. So I can format a column as plain text, submit the form, and the leading zero will still be stripped.

I tried writing an apps script to deal with this but there's no good way for me to deploy it to the users who would need it.

How can I get around this without having to instruct users to prepend a single quote to their form entry? This is such a small thing, but I can't find a good simple solution to what it seems must be a common problem. If I can't get this to work I may have to drop Google Forms/Sheets altogether.

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Welcome to Web Applications! Good question, I have edited it slightly to make it easier to read. Have you seen How can I get Google Docs to stop formatting a form response as a date? – Vidar S. Ramdal Aug 11 '14 at 20:16
Yes, and as noted above, I have tried what the "accepted answer" suggested, but it's for an older version of sheets and that doesn't work anymore. – res Aug 11 '14 at 20:23

3 Answers 3

Part of my answer would be: this is a known bug (newly received form submissions do not respect the format of the columns that they are landing in, as they did in the old version of sheets).

Depending on what you are doing with the data afterwards, another option would be to reproduce the form submissions on another sheet, with the correct format. For example, if column E contained zip codes that should be 5 digits long and include leading zeros (if required), then you could use:

=ArrayFormula(TEXT('Form Responses'!E:E,"00000"))

on another sheet.

You would need to bring over all your other columns as well, though. Without getting too complicated, this can be reasonably easily achieved in the new version of Sheets, and format the column(s) as desired, with (eg):

=QUERY('Form Responses'!A:G,"select * format E '00000'",1)

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I have just hit this problem, but unfortunately I don't know the number of digits I'm expecting so I don't know how many zeros may be missing. Luckily I thought of this before I sent the form out, if you already have responses then this won't help (unless you send it out again).

To solve this problem I have:

  1. Set the question type to "Text"
  2. Under "Advanced Settings" I have selected "Regular Expression"
  3. In the next drop down box I have selected "Matches"
  4. In the text box I have entered ^[\d+]$

This regular expression forces the user to enter an open square bracket at the start of their response which then must be followed by at least one digit and it must be ended with a closed square bracket. For example [0021314] would be a valid entry. Note that this will only allow digits, if you just want to force the square brackets, you can use ^[.+]$ instead.

In the sheet, this will show as [0021314], so you will then need to remove the square brackets which can be done with a formula like =mid(A1,2,len(A1)-2) where A1 is the cell containing [0021314]. Auto fill and formatting the cells as plain text should do the rest of what you'll need.

You could also change the regular expression to force users to enter a single quote at the start of their entry

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A long winded way of saying "I don't know how" coupled with "seems may not be possible" (but a real shame):

The best (but feeble) I can manage is to expect input (and thus also output) one digit at a time using a Scale of 0 to 9 for each digit.

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