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Can I Retrieve a Message I Submitted via a Web Form?

Wondering what you wrote?

There isn't a concept of a "sent mail folder" when filling out forms on a webpage, so there is nothing to retrieve.
Submit button.
Question: Last week, I sent an email to my congressman via his website. I never made a copy of it. Anyway, his office responded with a generic answer that referred to the subject and not the real question. I can’t remember how my email was worded and I was wondering if there was any way to retrieve it, even though it was sent directly to his site. Thanks.

Probably not.

Web forms — those webpages with fields you fill out and then click Submit or a similar button — have several advantages. I use them myself; my “ask a question” page is an example of a web form.

While it feels a little like sending an email message (and, indeed, may cause email to be sent), your email isn’t involved at all.

And that means your options are limited.

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Web form messages

Once you submit information via a web form, you lose all control over it. If you want to save a copy of that message, do so before hitting Submit. Writing it in Notepad, saving it to a file, and then copying/pasting it into the form is one common, easy solution.

Filling out a form

When you fill out an online form, it’s the web server that processes your submission. That means it can do anything it wants with whatever you’ve provided.

It might:

  • Enter your submission directly into a database.
  • Write your submission to a file on the server to be processed later.
  • Send an email containing your submission.
  • Ignore your submission completely (something I suspect happens more often than we might like).

There’s no way to know which of these techniques are used; it’s all hidden behind the webpage containing the form.

Email? Not really

The web form could cause email to be sent. That’s exactly what happens when you submit a question using my form.

What’s important to realize is that this is not your email. It’s the server sending the email. It’s the server telling me, “Hey, I just got a submission from so-and-so. Here’s everything they entered.”

In my case, even if you supplied an email address, your email was never involved in getting the information to me. It’s my server, not you, sending email to me, so there’s no “sent” copy kept on your end.

Keeping records

Once you hit Submit, the process is entirely out of your control. There’s no way to know what happened, and there’s no way to retrieve what you entered.

If I’m in this situation and I want to keep a record of what I’ve said, I do things slightly differently.

  • I compose my message in a different program, such as Word or Notepad.
  • I save that message to disk.
  • I copy/paste that message into the web form I’m filling out.
  • I hit Submit.

An alternative is to compose the message in the web form and before hitting Submit, copy/paste it to a local document that you then save somewhere.

Either way, there’s a copy stored locally.

Why web forms?

Why are web forms used instead of email?

There are a variety of reasons.

  • It’s somewhat more difficult to submit spam.
  • It’s possible to include required fields, such as email addresses.
  • It’s possible to validate some fields, like email addresses and phone numbers, to make sure they’re formed correctly.
  • It’s possible to have a series of fields that guide the submitter to provide required information.

In my case, I do both: you can send me email, though I prefer you use the form.

Do this

If you think what you’re about to submit via an online form is something you’ll want to refer to in the future, save a copy.

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12 comments on “Can I Retrieve a Message I Submitted via a Web Form?”

  1. There is a very long shot that if you go back to the page, your browser (or a plug in) MAY be able to show you what you input in the field. In Chrome, you click in the field to see what data it has stored.

  2. The best thing to do when filling out the message field of a Contact Us page is after it is all written, do a Copy All and paste into a document and save that.

  3. I recently began using a Firefox extension called Lazarus Form Recovery. It’s designed to do precisely what you need: Recover web form data you’ve posted after the program was installed. However, it might be worth checking to see whether it can screen your browser’s cache to possibly recover previously-posted information.

    There’s also a low-tech alternative that may have little chance of succeeding, but it’s easy enough to try. As you revisit some web pages presenting forms to fill out, occasionally the previously-entered information for each text entry box can be re-displayed if you’ll place your cursor (insertion point) inside each text entry box and type just the initial character of the entry previously submitted.

    What if you can’t remember what you entered? Then try a different initial character. If the entry is not recalled after the first character, press Backspace and try another letter. This technique may not work for all web pages, nor for all text entry boxes. Good luck!

    • Tony M., you wrote: “…If the entry is not recalled after the first character, press backspace and try another letter.…”

      Hey, you can go through the whole alphabet that way! There are only 26 letters, after all; and even if the form is case-sensitive, that’s still only 52 tries. You can repeat a quick 52-count “letter-backspace-nextletter” sequence in just a couple of minutes. Worth a try! (Good luck!)

      • The question was about retrieving text from a web form submitted a while after the message was sent and the form was closed. There are a few methods that may sometimes work shortly after the message was sent. I use a clipboard manager. I periodically press CTRL+A CTRL+C to copy the text to the clipboard and I can retrieve any of the last 100 clipboard contents. I probably should open notepad and save it as a file, but so far, that has been enough for me.

        • Yesterday, I was typing in a web form and accidentally clicked a link and moved away from the form I was submitting. I hit the back button, and the page asked me if I wanted to re-submit the page and the page returned with my entered text. That doesn’t always work and it only works immediately after losing the page, but it’s definitely worth a try.

  4. “It’s somewhat more difficult to submit spam.”
    I understand how that’s the case with web forms, but I’ve almost never seen any random spam in the questions, only targeted hand-sent spam. I would expect some spam to sneak through the spam filters from the direct mail. Are your spam filters that good on your email?

  5. O.K. I’m done. I give up. I’m probably wasting my time posting this, but I’ll try one last time anyway. For the past several weeks, I post a reply to an article, and it shows up following the posting process, but the next day when I go back to see if there is any reaction to my post, it does not show up. For that reason, I get the message. I’ll not post any replies on this site again. Goodby,

    Ernie (Oldster)


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