Four Tips for Creating Better Forms and Applications

  • June 28, 2024

How many times have you completed a form and wondered, “Why are they asking me this information?” Or “Don’t they already know this?” or worse, “Why do I have to write on this form and scan it back to them?”

It’s easy enough to create a form or application to collect data from others: Just write some questions and put in spaces for applicants to provide their answers and you’re ready to go.

But to be truly effective at capturing the needed information and providing a great user experience requires some thought and planning into how to organize the form and what information to collect.

Forms are the backbone of the InfoReady platform, which provides an easy-to-use way to create online forms then route them for review and tracking. Working with thousands of admins over many years has taught us a few things about how to create great forms that applicants and reviewers are happy to fill out.

Here are some best practices to help you make the most of your forms.

TIP #1: Organize for clarity.

  • If your form has more than 5 questions, outline the flow of information before you start building your form. A good practice is to structure forms in your department similarly. Example: start with basic applicant information, next collect information about their field of study and their advisors, then ask for information about their proposal.
  • Group questions requesting similar information or types of information together into sections and pages. For example: all the fields requesting applicant personal information (name, email, campus address, etc.) should be together.
  • Add a Table of Contents to help users know where they are in a form and what’s yet to be done. Users might work to complete a section, then save the application and return later to complete. A Table of Contents also lets applicants look ahead to see what information will be needed later in the form.

TIP #2: Provide context and additional information to reduce questions.

  • Add paragraphs of text with instructions, tips, and what’s needed at the beginning of your form and as the applicant progresses through the form. Don’t leave that information on the Details (landing page). Repeat it in the form.
  • Use paragraphs of text to give applicants a heads up on what information documents or documentation will be needed.
  • Use text areas to provide information on next steps, what happens next, and when applicant will receive a response at the end of the form.

TIP #3: Design with the applicant in mind.

Consider how to help applicants complete your form faster and easier while collecting all the information you need to make decisions.

  • Use eligibility checkpoints at the beginning with conditional logic. You can stop applicants who don’t meet eligibility requirements from continuing or redirect to a new page that explains the issues.
  • Group questions into pages and sections to provide a sense of completion or progress to the applicant, as well as an expectation of how much more work they need to do. Pages and sections also provide a natural stopping point if the applicant has limited time.
  • Use conditional logic to present only relevant information to an applicant. Hide questions, sections or pages based on applicant’s answers.
  • Combine similar forms into one with conditional logic. Forms with only minor differences can easily be combined into one using branching. This eases the administrative burden on staff and makes it easier for applicants to find the correct form to complete.
  • Follow common conventions in presenting questions. Example: fields city, state, and zip code should be presented in that order.
  • Customize to your campus by using naming conventions for fields commonly used by your students, faculty and staff. Example: your campus uses NetID instead of user number.
  • Start your form with easy to answer questions to help applicants feel like they are making quick progress.
  • Vary use of question types used to make the form more interesting to complete.

TIP #4: How to ensure data accuracy

  • Match the best question type to information needed, keeping the user in mind.
  • Build in data accuracy to your fields by limiting answer options using checkboxes, drop downs and text fields with data validation (ex. Email address format). This also helps with reporting later.
  • Use data feeds to import information you already know about an applicant. This helps the form get completed faster and ensures data consistency and accuracy. Autofill fields from imported user profile.

The InfoReady platform provides a user-friendly way to create and review online forms. By organizing questions clearly, providing context, and designing with the applicant in mind, you can create efficient and effective forms that applicants will appreciate. Additionally, ensure data accuracy by matching question types to information needed and using data feeds to import existing applicant information. These best practices will help streamline the form completion process and improve overall user experience.


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