Plan a form

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A well-designed form should be easy for everyone to complete. Before creating the form, carefully consider what should go into the design. This will result in a better, more usable form.


The form is not the goal. The goal may be to graduate, or apply for a program, or get information about an event, or any of many things for which forms exist. The form is a task for achieving the goal and should not be a barrier. A poorly designed form is difficult or frustrating to complete.

A good form should:

  • Have a single purpose
  • Request only necessary information
  • Use clear, understandable language
  • Be easy to complete

Form purpose

The first step is to determine the purpose of the form. Think about why someone will fill out your form. What is their goal?

Focus on the person's goal and give your form a single purpose. This keeps the form simple and light. Too many goals complicates a form and adds extra fields to complete.

Necessary information

Once you establish the purpose of the form, consider what information someone needs to fulfill the task.

Many people don't like providing more information than necessary. As the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union shows, people are concerned about their data and privacy. To help build trust, ask only for what you need, not what you want. If you must collect information that is sensitive or may seem intrusive, consider explaining how that information is used and why it must be collected. Be certain to follow university policies about collecting and storing sensitive data.

Before people begin filling out the form, make it easier for them to gather needed information. For example, when requiring information such as a student or employee ID number, remember that they may need to look up this information. In the form instructions, include a link to the system where they can find their ID number.

If you are redesigning a form, consider whether you really need all the information that your previous form collected. If someone is signing up to receive an email newsletter, do you really need their name or street address?

The more information you ask for, the longer and more complicated the form. When forms are longer than necessary, people are more likely to stop filling them out and not complete their task.

Many forms request extra information for marketing or other purposes. You have probably filled out forms like that. You have also likely filled out forms with a pre-selected checkbox to sign up for a newsletter. Avoid creating forms like this. If you must, after the form has been completed and submitted, you can make your request to sign up for your newsletter or complete your other task.

Clear language

Once you have decided what information to collect, you will need to craft clear questions that people can easily understand. Your questions and form labels should be written from the point of view of the person completing the form.

Avoid terms that may be unfamiliar to people trying to complete your form, especially acronyms and jargon. While "DOB" is short, not everyone will know it stands for "date of birth".

Short, simple sentences are easier to understand than long, complicated ones. Direct questions are easier to understand than complex ones.

As you craft your questions, ask yourself:

  • Are there any questions that could be misunderstood? For example, if you ask for household income, do you mean net income or gross income?
  • Are there any questions that could be stated more simply?

Ease of completion

Finally, consider how easy it will be for someone to complete your form.

The questions should follow a logical sequence. For example, people are used to seeing addresses presented in a particular order. Don't change the expected order unless there is a specific reason, such as using a database of zip codes to supply the state.

If you include any questions that would disqualify someone from completing the form, make them the first questions on the form. Having people complete some or all of the form first wastes their time and may be a hardship for some.

A well-designed form should require few instructions. Simple instructions are helpful, such as indicating required fields or the necessary format for dates. If people need more complex instructions, especially in the middle of the form, consider redesigning the form.

Form design

After you craft your form questions, consider the type of form field that best suits each question. See Design a form.

This is document atvi in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2023-10-04 10:58:35.