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To my knowledge, it can't be done, and here is why if someone knows better, I'm all ears!
The browser posts data to a server. A mail client, although it renders HTML, is not a browser. It can't "post" to a server. It may render the form elements, but when you try to submit it's going to go the website as if you'd clicked a hyperlink, and leave all the variables behind.
The best you can do is form a complex query string on output of the email. That is, you already have the recipient's email in hand, maybe you have the person's name and other details. So on output of the email,
<a href="http://firstname.lastname@example.org&fn=John&ln=Doe&validation_key=4534534535">GET STARTED TODAY</a>
Note the above is in CLEAR TEXT; it really should be encrypted data. Get it working, then don't forget to encrypt just because you want it off your desk.
I did a test, and it didn't seem to work. :( However, it DID with one test where I open the message through a web interface. Another test didn't work with Hotmail, but they may have security measures in place to prevent this. I didn't try on Yahoo or Gmail.
So I guess it all depends on how advanced the HTML rendering is of the e-mail client. Since that's not something you can readily control, the best bet is to provide a link to a form on a web server.
and sorry for posting in the wrong boards i wasnt sure which one to use and this seemed to fit the bill.
as for the replies to the question I was looking down the same route as the answers in the end as i couldnt find anyway of doing it either that would work across clients.
thanks again for the help
So, it looks like a straight HTML form is out for reasons of there being too many variations on clients.
The pdf/excel angle is interesting. Has anyone had any luck with this?
What about Google Docs? Can a google doc go inside an email? Can someone fill it in and send it back? Does it need to get attached? What is a Google Doc? I guess I should go and look.
Another method we are thinking about is simply asking people to type their response nicely, in the right space, just under the 'form' question, and then somehow take it as text and mung it into excel or whatever for analysis. Is this crazy? I'm talking there would be maybe 500-1000 emails to process like this every week.
It's probably a dumb idea!