What is good form writing?

In previous posts in this series, we’ve covered a little bit about how to make your forms work well for your respondent, but there’s more to a good web form than just making sure the form is easy to use. The form is about communicating with your respondent, not just about getting the information you want. The words and language you use on your form set the tone for your interactions with your site’s visitors, so they should reflect your intention of that interaction.

Clear, concise, just-in-time information

In an ideal world, you would be able to provide ample information to your respondents using only descriptive field labels. In reality, sometimes you really do need to explain options or meanings. In these cases, the best strategy is to display the necessary information as close to the question as possible. For example, provide clarification in a short description above or below the question. If you need to display a lot of help information (more than a few words), consider dynamic hints. Dynamic hints disrupt the flow of the form less than large chunks of help text. In FormAssembly, dynamic hints are available by entering the hint text in the “Contextual Help” section on the Properties panel.

Have a conversation with your respondent

Think of your forms as an important mode of communication with your online visitor. You’re not just extracting information, but building a relationship. How can you use this in your forms? Instead of making short, terse labels, consider how you can turn the question into a full sentence using common language.

For example, this feels fairly impersonal.
country

This, however, feels much friendlier and more personal.
ILiveIn

If you find it difficult or think it feels unprofessional to make changes like these to you forms, one author suggests reading your form aloud. By doing this, you’ll get a better understanding of the way your visitor will experience the form when seeing it for the first time.

We’d love to hear your comments about these ideas, ideas you have for improving your forms, or other feedback on FormAssembly. Feel free to leave comments below, or check out the UserVoice forum.

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