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I'm currently designing a Profile page that requires users to add a variety of items using forms (different forms for each section). When they first create their account, the Profile will be completely empty.

For empty sections, we've decided to use placeholders. There will be several of these on the page, one for each empty section on the profile.

Currently, we're using the phrase, "You haven't added any [items]."

Are there any best practices surrounding this, pertaining to length, relative emphasis, passive voice, inline calls to action, etc?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

A placeholder is an efficient tool for teaching what your user is going to do next without spoon-feeding him. The key of success here is to give an answer to the question: What am I gonna to do next, how and why? As this could be a lot of information, it's okay to split the answer on multiple dialogs.

An example: If you want to get the user's profile image, your placeholder could give the answer to the what and why ("Please add a profile image. This helps other users to identify you.") and give some advices about the how during the upload process ("Your image should have a minimum size of...").

In my opinion the tools of 37signals are great examples of good placeholder usage. I recommend you to get a free 60-days trial of Basecamp and play around a bit.

basecamp dashboard

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Thank you, Marcel. This is very helpful. – ewittke Jun 6 '13 at 14:10

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