Designing a great form
As you create your Screendoor form, it’s worth taking some time to think about how to provide a smooth experience for respondents. When you ensure your forms are usable and easy to complete, it saves your respondents time and helps you collect the most accurate and relevant information.
Your form should try to be:
User-friendly. Your form should be as easy as possible for respondents to fill out. No surprises, no headaches.
Clear. Respondents should understand what information they are being asked to enter and why you need it.
Concise. A good form is focused and to the point, omitting unnecessary complexity.
Ten ways to design a better form
Here are some quick tips that can help you improve your forms:
1. Choose the appropriate field for your question.
When you add a field to your form, think about the type of answer you want to receive. This will influence the type of field you choose.
For example, if you want an answer of “Yes” or “No,” two checkboxes wouldn’t make sense, because the user could select both options.
Instead, Screendoor’s “multiple choice” field, which lets you select only one option, would be a better fit.
Here’s another example: if you want the answer to be in the form of a number, use a “Numeric” field. Screendoor will display an error if the user tries to enter anything in this field that isn’t a number.
2. Avoid using too much emphasis.
If you use too much emphasis (bold, italics, or underlining), the user will ignore it. Emphasize text only when you absolutely need to.
Never use all caps for labels.
3. Only ask once.
Try not to ask for the same information twice. For example, Screendoor already collects names and email addresses for you, so you don’t need to ask for that information again. If you ask respondents for their address in one section of the form, you shouldn’t need to ask for it again in another section.
4. Avoid repetitive descriptions.
If you need to give respondents the same instructions for multiple fields, format your form so that you only need to tell them once.
Redundant information makes the form longer and harder to read.
Instead, use section headers and descriptions to properly organize your instructions.
5. Use blocks of text for long or important instructions.
If it’s necessary to write descriptive text that is longer than a paragraph, place it in a “Block of text” field, instead of the description of a section header. For instructions that require special emphasis, use large or medium blocks of text instead of emphasizing with *asterisks* or ALL CAPS.
6. Always provide clear labels for inputs.
Try not to assume that respondents will understand the information you need from them based on the given answer options. That might not be the case.
You can maintain clear and concise labels by having the label and answer form a complete sentence.
7. Avoid redundant labels.
Using the same label for multiple inputs makes it harder to distinguish the difference between them.
Try to stay concise while still giving your respondents the information they need to complete your form.
8. Organize your form with sections.
Use section breaks to organize your form and provide clear hierarchy. Use large section headers to indicate the major sections of your form. Use medium and small section headers to identify sub-sections.
9. For long forms, use page breaks.
When someone encounters a huge form, it can feel overwhelming and deter them from even starting. Make your form more approachable by grouping related fields into sections, and devoting a single page to each section.
10. Instead of asking your respondents to skip sections, add logic to your form instead.
If you need your respondents to skip sections of your form depending on their previous answers, you should consider using logic instead of explaining it in writing. Logic allows you to hide or show any field on your form, making complex forms much more usable.
Improving your copywriting skills
Plain and clear language helps make your form more accessible to everyone. Learning effective copywriting takes practice, but it’s an invaluable skill to learn, and your audience won’t be able to thank you enough. Here are some resources we’ve found helpful:
- GovLoop Academy Course on Plain Language
- Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content by Colleen Jones
- Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
Receive a form design consultation
If you want hands-on training on how to make your forms even better, the Screendoor team is available for consultation on an hourly basis. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.