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I am designing a large form which is split up into sections, and depending on how the user answers the questions, whole sections will be created. Here's an example -

Do you have a car? (this isn't a real question, just made up)

  • Yes
  • No

If the user selects yes, they will need to complete a section with car details on. We've decided to split them onto new pages because the question list can be quite long.

My question is -

Should the wizard display ALL of the available sections, then remove them as required or add sections as and when they are specified?

Another thing to note is the progress is going down the left hand side vertically of the page, unlike a normal horizontal progress bar.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I would aim to only show steps that are relevant to the user.

I would, by default, show steps that are applicable to all users and then only reveal additional sections if, based on the user's input, they are applicable. In other words, start by showing as few sections as possible.

If you start by showing everything, you are presenting the user with what looks like a very long and protracted process with lots of steps that are perhaps not applicable to them. While it could be argued that you're providing useful information by showing the worst case scenario, I think you risk deterring people from even starting the process if it looks so complex.

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Just want to say +1 and add emphasis on the fact that big long forms will be largely detrimental to conversion! Less, in the case of web forms, is always more. However, also be careful not to let the fact that you're hiding form elements upfront as an excuse to overload. Your user can drop off or decide the form is not worth filling out at any time, so it's best to be choosy with what you ultimately include. – Dave Luciano Nov 30 '12 at 18:49
These were my thoughts too. We had gone for this approach in the first place but your answers helps clarify my decision. Thanks! – Wander Dec 3 '12 at 13:35

The risk of showing all steps up front, then removing some, is that the survey looks overwhelming as the user starts. On the other hand, it gets shorter as the user proceeds.

The risk of showing only the minimal set of steps up front, then adding items, is that the user feels like the finish line is moving farther and farther away.

If possible I might show future steps in some abstract way, more like a progress meter than a numbered list. I would be inclined to let the maximum number of steps control the progress along the meter. This way you're not communicating a specific number of steps-to-go, but you can still show progress.

No one will be disappointed when answering the third question suddenly bumps the meter halfway to the goal, after the first two questions advanced the meter only 10% each. A meter at 5% is somehow less intimidating than a survey that says Up to 19 questions to go. I just don't want to see the meter stop or move backward.

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+1 - % is a possibly but in my circumstance the users needs to know what each step is. I agree 'The risk of showing only the minimal set of steps up front, then adding items, is that the user feels like the finish line is moving farther and farther away.' could be an issue, you'd have to weight up the context of the form and if it's appropriate. – Wander Dec 3 '12 at 13:37

Not sure why I can't comment on @matt-obee's answer, but I pretty much agree with his sentiment. I would just add a link to "Progressive Disclosure" for reference on the topic:

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