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This is slightly different than this question regarding a small form. I have a multi-page survey that can take up to 10 minutes to complete.

Right now, all of our prompts start with verbs, but I feel like they may be unnecessary. What are the best practices for when and when not to use verbs? Do some demographics prefer verbs?

This is an example page of our survey: Web Form with verbs in label

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Isn't the verb implied to some extent? Seems to add a bit of unneeded wordy-ness. –  Jessica Aug 29 '12 at 16:19
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5 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

No, just use the label for what is expected. It's easier to understand and clearer to the user if you use fewer words. Think of a registration form:

Enter your e-mail address:

or

E-mail:

From a user experience perspective, the more you cut down on the number of words, the better. Key words are preferred, since they convey the actual meaning to what you want to have added. It touches the accepted answer to the question, "Why shouldn't we use the word 'here' in a textlink". Select, enter, type or write are (in this context) useless words which should be avoided.

Think and apply "Less is more"

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General statements are always true....except when they aren't :) Less is more ... until its too much. The principle of simplicity is an excellent aim, however it might be more accurate to say "just enough" (to get the job done). –  Jay Aug 30 '12 at 10:07
    
Agreed on "just enough," however in the first example, "Choose a shift" would be much better than just "shift." Same for "Choose a work venue." –  tajmo Sep 4 '12 at 21:24
    
IMO the minimalistic approach is the right one, especially for a 10-minutes worth form. On the other hand, one should prevent the now what? reaction of the user when the next step is too implied. So in the shift input, I'd label it "Shift" and would put "choose one" instead of "click to select" that's obvious because it stems from the type of control. –  Juan Lanus Mar 30 '13 at 10:36
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I'm a fan of making sure the key word is easy to pick out. As the user scans down the form they should be able to easily find and read these. At times additional words can interrupt this flow, forcing the user to spend more effort trying to understand what is required.

My advice:

  1. Start the form off with pleasantries (above the entry fields) to set the tone. How a form stars and ends can have a large effect on perception.
  2. Attempt to use the simplest instruction / words possible.
  3. If required add explanatory text. This should be less prominent than the field prompt.
  4. If you find (e.g. through testing) that there is some difficulty with a field prompt then add in just enough to make it work. Roger's answer above provides a good case - where additional words are required to avoid ambiguity at a critical point. Notice that the end of the line reads 'your name'. Adding one 'Your' to 'name' makes it less simple but more clear.

Caveat: At some points it might be more important to express a certain tone of voice or personality rather than aim for pure efficiency. If you have identified a point where this is preferred you may be able to be more flexible.

TL;DR - Simple is good but don't forget clarity and tone. Look at the whole picture.

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The reason why you think they are unnecessary is:

a) because you are too familiar with the form, and

b) overuse of the same verb - 'Enter'.

For someone who has never seen the form before, the verb can be a vital clue as to what is expected of them in terms of typing a response, or selecting an option.

In order to reduce the repetitive nature and monotony of using the same verbs across a long survey type of form, you may find it useful to vary the exact words used.

However, a good alternative is simply to rephrase as questions, especially where it's a number involved in the answer. In fact by using a question style like a census (Think along the lines of "Who usually lives here?", "List the names of...", "What type of accommodation is this?", "Who is your landlord", "How many of these rooms are bedrooms?") you implicitly indicate to the reader what kind of response is require without having to include words like 'Enter', 'Select', 'Choose'. A brief but clearly worded question establishes some basis for being able to make sense of what is wanted - without doubt. Just having the label 'Landlord' for example might mean 'Do you have a landlord?', 'Are you a landlord?', 'Who is your landlord?'.

So brevity is good, but clarity is even better - and especially if there's any possible reason for ambiguity. The 2011 UK census doesn't even just say 'Name', it says 'What is your name?', and believe me, census forms have to be filled in by anyone and everyone.

You may also want to consider adding a please to the first item as a polite way to kick things off. (No need to do it on all subsequent items)

So for example:

  • Please choose a shift:
  • What top 3 skills do you consider critical to the job:
  • Enter any certifications:
  • Where is your work venue:
  • How many beds at your location?
  • How many people do you manage both directly and indirectly?
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Those verbs are not necessary; in fact, they are harmful. If a user has to seek a particular field in the form - to edit content, or to seek a field they have been told is erroneous - starting each label with the same word makes scanning difficult.

It should be implicit that the user has to fill in the form - even if the user has never encountered a web form before, they will have almost certainly encountered a paper one.

Another thing - I haven't seen it in a usability test, but I suspect that users reading the command 'enter' will assume the field is mandatory even when it isn't, because 'enter...' is a direct instruction.

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Good for the "harmful" side of the additional text. –  Juan Lanus Mar 30 '13 at 10:40
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Roger's answer provides a good way to add some flavor to the copy, but I'd strongly suggest avoiding the "extra verbs" on long or repeated forms. Since this is a survey, users probably won't be filling it in more than once, but this fluff adds up the more fields there are to read.

For a multiple page form, every extra second is an extra reason to abandon the form. Added monotony is a great way to make it feel like the form never ends. Shaking up your wording a bit can work for a short form, but there's only so many ways to ask "fill in this field please", and on a 10 minute form, efficiency is king. You're definitely going to get some form abandonment, minimize that by keeping everything as clear and efficient as possible.

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