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I have a simple feedback form (see screenshot) on each page on a site. The user has to select whether the page was helpful or not (radio buttons yes/no) and there is also a text area input where the user can add extra information about how we could improve the page.

Would you recommend I have a character limit on this field (i've seen it done on other sites that are similar to mine) and if so, what would be a reasonable character limit to set?

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N.b. I can't find a similar question about character limits on feedback/comment fields so please edit if there is a similar question already posted (I'm surprised I can't find one).

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Does there need to be a max limit (beyond technical limitations)? –  Ben Brocka Jun 12 '12 at 10:47
    
@Ben Brocka that's part of the question that I have just asked. –  Dave Haigh Jun 12 '12 at 10:49
    
I would also consider whether or not you want scroll bars and the size the actual text box is going to take up. Your character ceiling may, therefore, be determined for you by the size of your textbox given the limitations of your layout –  brumScouse Jun 12 '12 at 11:10
    
Further to ChrisF's comment you would prolly be looking at varchar(MAX) (about 8k characters) - for mssql databases. –  brumScouse Jun 12 '12 at 11:12
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@brumScouse I would very strongly recommend against limiting the length by the size of the text box; if your box is too small to add scroll bars, it's too small for feedback –  Ben Brocka Jun 12 '12 at 13:19
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7 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I would recommend a No Limit for the text field upon composing but a suitable limit upon listing.

What I mean is that if the user is limited to expressing their opinion in a regulated fashion the true nature of their opinion could be altered. They may need 752 characters to express their opinion but you've set the limit to 500 characters, what should they exclude and will the experience in this case perhaps even push them towards not posting a response at all?

I believe that putting a limit would injure quality and quantity of feedback.

Instead, have no limit when the user is composing, but have a limit when listing the user posts clearly indicating when a post stretches beyond the specified limit.

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I'm thinking along the lines of what this site has done for listing opinions on consumer electronics. You see a draft of the post, if the post stretches beyond the limit the user is invited to expand to show the whole post in its entirety.

This will invite users to express them selves as they wish and not feel obligated to formulate themselves in a way set up by the system.

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nice points, but these feedback comments won't actually be displayed on the site anywhere. They will be sent as an email to a designated email address. –  Dave Haigh Jun 12 '12 at 11:29
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Even more reason not to limit the feedback! –  Lisa Tweedie Jun 12 '12 at 11:37
    
@DaveHaigh I must agree with Lisa. The feedback will be crippled if you limit its content. If you just ignore the part of displaying the feedback in my answer the rest still applies to your conundrum as I see it. –  AndroidHustle Jun 12 '12 at 11:52
    
@AndroidHustle I agree with you, thanks again for the answer. Just wanted to clarify to you where these comments will be going/displayed. –  Dave Haigh Jun 12 '12 at 11:57
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@zzzzBov well yea. allowing everything would be problematic it you come across some malicious users. =) I'm sure there would be no problem specifying a limit that practically never should be reached in conventional use. –  AndroidHustle Jun 12 '12 at 13:57
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From the standpoint of the person filling out the form, I too recommend not setting any limit on how much information the user is allowed to send.

Unfortunately this isn't actually a realistic goal. What happens when a user submits the form with 100k lines of text? Simply put, you don't want users to abuse the feedback form, as it could be detrimental to the user experience of future visitors. Other users wont care why the page is taking >2s to load the GB of data that some jerk posted, they'll simply go elsewhere.

As an alternative, set the character cap high, but not abusively so. Anything upwards of 10,000 characters seems reasonable to me, but it's a judgement call you'll have to make.

Don't tell the user how many chars they have. They don't need to know unless they exceed the limit. If a user decides to post a massive amount of information that does exceed the limit, alert them with a message to contact you in a different method:

Wow, that's a lot of feedback! To make sure that we appropriately address all of your concerns, you should send us an email at support@example.com. We'll be glad to hear from you.

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+1 These are relevant points. However the OP commented in my answer that the feedback isn't actually displayed anywhere on the site but rather emailed to the provider/webmaster. This feature will (as far as I know) filter out contributions that exceeds some ubiquitous limit, say 20M bytes. Great concern nonetheless. –  AndroidHustle Jun 12 '12 at 14:08
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Like the majority of posts here, I don’t think a character limit is necessarily required in this instance.

If the issue is the presentation of particularly large responses when viewing comments, you could always truncate comments after the first thousand-or-so characters and provide a ‘view more’ link that reveals the remainder of the comment via JavaScript. :-)

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Surely if the character limit was high enough this would not put people off! Isn't there a limit set within the minds of the admin people who read this feedback in terms of characters however useful the comments may be?

I personally in this case though would not limit it as there does not seem to be a technical or design constraint here. But I can think of instances where this might not be desirable.

Actually sometimes it's good to set a limit as it helps the user to give better feedback rather than a ramble. It helps the user to construct more precise and valid statements.

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While I agree with the other answers that you shouldn't impose an arbitrary small limit since you want to give users the freedom to fully express themselves.

I will propose an alternate view related to security that there should be a hard upper limit to protect your systems. If you allow unlimited text to be entered it might be possible for a would be hacker to generate an extremely large chuck of text, say 100's or 1000's of megabytes in size, and submit it as feedback. This might result in a denial of service due to the massive size of text making your webserver and/or database server being unable to handle such a large submission or perhaps the application will crash and provide the hacker with an error message that helps him/her to break into your system.

Visit http://www.lipsum.com/ and generate different lipsums of byte sizes to find an amount of text that you feel will give even the wordiest of feedback room while being reasonable to protect your systems from abuse.

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I think a hard character limit goes against asking for feedback. Imagine yourself being asked for feedback and halfway through your explanation the person cuts you off. Saying "thats enough!". If you have users who are opinionated and gives lengthy explanation of what they like or not. Do you really want to stop them?

If I, as a user have gone out of my way to provide feedback, limiting my feedback would make me less likely to provide it again.

From your point of view when handling the feedback you want it to be relevant and concise. But rather than setting a hard character limit, design it so that it's easier to write shorter texts rather than longer. Limit the size of the field in one way of doing it. Provide helpful hints in the placeholder texts on what the users should write to be of use to you.

Then I would look at the actual inputs and see if there actually is a problem with users providing to much feedback. And then maybe put limits on it.

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I think you should put some detection in there, so if anyone starts to leave feedback with the words 'awful' or 'rubbish' in there then you immediately tell them 'That's enough, limit exceed!!' so they get annoyed and don't bother leaving negative feedback. ;) –  JonW Jun 12 '12 at 11:14
    
I wonder if that one would work or just give you long rants instead? –  Alvin Jun 12 '12 at 11:17
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The only limit I'd put on this would be if there was a technical limitation anywhere along the chain between the user and the database.

Most systems are going to let you enter and store several thousand characters, which should be more than enough for most comments.

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