The first step to choosing the best data entry software is determining the specific information-processing requirements you have for the software. The amount of data that you will be working with will be the best gauge of whether simple spreadsheet or word processing programs will be sufficient or whether you will need database entry software or imaging software. The source of your data will affect your decision, because questionnaires will have different requirements than text searches or cataloging of terms or values.
If your intended use will be for limited questionnaires with small sample sizes, a simple spreadsheet program probably will be sufficient. A survey with 10 questions or less submitted by less than 200 people can be entered and calculated manually. Most computers have a spreadsheet program already built in that can handle data entry applications of this size. If not, there are free programs available through the Internet that include a spreadsheet or word processing application. A word processing program could be used for light transcription or translation.
More complex surveys or information sources will require database capability in the data entry software suite chosen. Again, with fewer than 200 respondents, the information can be entered manually, and the database program can sort the information for you. If you are going to be taking your information from paper forms, you should employ imaging software that will scan and display them so that you can enter the answers into the database. If your needs include a text search, optical character recognition (OCR) software might be required in your data entry software.
For the most complex surveys or largest sample sizes, there are data entry software suites called statistical programs that can provide and coordinate the differing components. These data entry applications are usually quite expensive, but because they perform multiple functions and can reduce the amount of human labor required, they can be cost effective in the long run. They are very complicated and will require knowledge of statistics and attention to detail in the development of the survey technique.
Your choice of data entry software depends a great deal on how deeply involved you are in the project. For the occasional or single instance, you might want to consider outsourcing. If you are seeking to start a service or run large, complicated and continuing information-processing tasks, then statistical or package programming could be a better option.