Persuading People to Answer
The purpose of a form is to gather information from the user - so the most important function of the form is persuading people to provide the information.
When faced with a form, the user recognizes that he is going to have to complete a task. The author skips over an important concept (the user asking "why should I?") and assumes the user is interested.
Their immediate assessment is an evaluation of what they must do and how difficult it will be to do it. A form that has a lot of input fields and is cluttered with instructional text may be daunting and dissuasive.
From there, the user looks to the first box to type into, then types, then looks for the next, until they get to a submit button. A form design should accommodate this by guiding the user through the fields, generally in a top-to-bottom order.
Behavior of users is classified into three types:
- Readers - who will read the form carefully before beginning the task
- Rushers - Who will begin completing fields and won't stop to read unless he is stumped
- Refusers - Who simply skip over the form, or click away.
Note that most users have one habitual behavior, but it is not fixed. Given a complex or delicate task, a habitual rusher will read; given a routine task of minimal importance, a reader will rush.
One question: when do you ask the questions? The example given of salesmen who demand customers complete (and sign) a form before they will show them a vehicle risks offending the customer and losing sales.
Also, note that each question puts the user's compliance at risk: some users will bail when they come across one poorly placed or ill-conceived question, others are more forgiving, depending on their relationship.
Three rules that influence response rates:
- Establish trust - People are more likely to respond if they trust the organization that asks it
- Reduce social cost - people are less likely to respond to a question if they feel that their answer is embarrassing
- Increase rewards - people are more likely to respond to a question if they feel they are getting some reward for providing the information
Besides the trust the user has in the organization, ensure the form has a clear purpose, a professional design, does not contain advertising, and is free of defects and typographical errors.Reduce Social Cost
Keep the form short and easy. Be sure the tone is requesting rather than demanding. Minimize requests for sensitive or personal information. Design questions so that users can answer easily. Use error messages that respect the effort the user is making. If the user makes a mistake, do not make them re-type everything else to correct the problem.Increase Rewards
Generally, the reward of a form is inherent in the situation: you will get search results, you will log into a site and get access to exclusive resources, you will place an order for an item.
The most difficult forms are those that request information for the benefit of the organization, but which do nothing for the user. An incentive can help to increase the response rate.
An interesting bit on incentives: a test was done with a survey in which some users were sent $1 with the survey, others were promised $50 on sending it back. The group offered $50 had no significantly higher response rate than the control group (who got nothing), but the $1 gift "significantly increased" the response rate. (James and Bolstein, 1992)Form Length
There is no stock answer for how long a form should be. Users will tolerate "long" forms if they have a good relationship with the organization and feel the reward they will earn is worth the effort.Audience Analysis
Another consideration: who will answer these questions?
From a design perspective, you should pitch the form to the appropriate audience. There are also legal considerations - are you permitted by law to ask certain questions? Must the form be designed for access by the disabled?
If you have user profiles (customer database), you may have some information on hand that will tell you about your audience. Otherwise, you may need to make an educated guess about your audience.
The author suggests creating one or more personas as a method of understanding your audience - her suggestions here are quick and dirty, and there are better resources for information on the topic of market segmentation and personification.
User testing can also help answer key questions:
- What are you trying to achieve by filling out the form?
- What information do you expect to provide?
- Would you be reluctant to answer any of the questions?
- Do you expect to be able to answer from memory, or will you need to ask other people or look things up?
- How long would you expect it to take to do this task? (asked before they see the form and again afterward)
- In what environment would you be doing this task? (distractions./interruptions?)