Is there a word for a document with syntactic structure, that is, where the layout of the document encodes information (via, for instance, tables or the placement of labels)?

"Form" suggests that the document needs to be filled in. A form is an example of what I am talking about, but not the right word.

Other examples could be a passport, a receipt, etc.

  • Well, a passport can be seen as a form filled in by the government. – zhantongz Feb 14 at 15:32
  • Whether for filling out or not, form is suitable. Also, preset, preformatted, or boilerplate text (using a fixed template). Even papers, as in "May I see your papers?" – Yosef Baskin Feb 14 at 15:37
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    I’m only getting “pro-forma” (The leases we prepare in this firm all use the pro-forma recommended by the Tenants Association.) But really this is just what @YosefBaskin has already said and “pro-forma” can be seen as fancy Latin legalese for “form”. – Orbital Aussie Feb 14 at 23:51
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    I have now researched “W2”. For those not in the US, this an annual statement made by an employer to the Federal tax authority about income earned and tax withheld. So, we are talking about a piece of paper with blanks for completion, OR perhaps also a set reporting format enabling the preparation of similar pieces of paper by employers OR an electronic equivalent of the piece of paper for online lodgment. The ordinary idiomatic name for this is simply a “form”. – Orbital Aussie Feb 16 at 1:45

There are a range of words in English to refer to documents with syntactic structure that either collect or present information (or collect it from one party and then present it to another) in a regular systematic way.

Form is the most idiomatic word in many circumstances. It is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

4 : a printed or typed document with blank spaces for insertion of required or requested information

//tax forms

The preceding broader meaning is relevant too:

3a : established method of expression or proceeding : procedure according to rule or rote also : a standard or expectation based on past experience : PRECEDENT

b : a prescribed and set order of words : FORMULA //the form of the marriage service//true to form, the champions won again

So, we can say things like: The form a passport takes has been established over many years and is supported by international agreement. A ‘tax invoice’ must be in the form laid down by the Australian Taxation Office.

In modern usage “a form” can be electronic rather than paper. Many tax forms, for example, are completed on a screen and then lodged by transmitting the resulting set of data. There are some examples here.

This are some alternative expressions, overlapping with “form” in their meaning without always being synonymous (only small extracts of definitions are reproduced here):

Pro forma: “a particular type of letter, document, etc. that is created as an example to show how others of the same type should be written or prepared” -Cambridge dictionary.

Template: “something that establishes or serves as a pattern” - Merriam-Webster.

Protocol: “a set of conventions governing the treatment and especially the formatting of data in an electronic communications system network protocols” - Merriam-Webster.

There are many other possibilities too, such as: standard, boilerplate, fixed format, set text and preset.

The choice of word may be influenced by how variable the information is and whether it is a standard format for the collection or presentation of information. Some examples: 1. The judgements issued by a Court might be written by many people and might vary widely in content but will generally follow an agreed protocol or be prepared using the same template or layout. 2.A standard Will and Testament document is most often called a template but can be referred to as a form too. This website uses both: “While it is true that the majority of middle class Americans can easily use a last will and testament form... If you are married and would like to disinherit your spouse... you should meet with an attorney instead of using a last will and testament free template.”

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