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I have a form where there are several fields; some are required and some not. This form can be saved at any time so the user can come back to it later to complete it, but they won't be able to actually Submit it unless all the required fields are complete.

Crude mockup below:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Currently I have gone with the standard Asterisk * and a message at the top of the form that fields marked with * are required fields, but I'm a bit concerned that this is misleading, because they're only required for final submission and not for just saving the form for later.

Possibly I'm overthinking it, but is there a convention for 'some fields are required for submission but you can still save the record for later without completing everything'?

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I wouldn't go with indications on a per field basis. Just with an extension of the "required fields" instruction. Something along the lines of "No fields are ever required when you 'Save for later'." That is unless you plan to require some fields even with save for later, which is something I would strongly advice against as it will probably only muddy the waters. –  Marjan Venema Sep 10 '13 at 11:30
    
The save button is already OK for me I'll go on special indication on submit (color, text, hover popup before click...). You can't submit now required fields are missing. If you can even list the required fields it will be better. –  ColdCat Sep 10 '13 at 12:14
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3 Answers

Disable the "Submit" button until the required fields are filled out. The "Save for later" button would always be enabled. This will probably indicate enough for the form to be easily usable.

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Maybe a subtle hint at the beginning helps that all bold fields are required.

If the user has not filled all required fields a tooltip could be shown next to the submit button, to let the user know that required input is still missing. In addition the 'Submit' button could be disabled. If, in contrast, the 'Save' button is still active it should be clear that saving is possible while submitting is not.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Things maybe worth considering:

  • if the vast majority of input is required and not optional just using some sort of 'optional' tag is a valid option
  • if the form is long then a 'missing required fields counter' could be helpful to manage expectations, maybe even with some sort of functionality that turns highlighting of missing input fields on
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As Marjan Venema implies in the comment to your question. Generally saving does not require, required fields to be completed. The statement "No fields are required for 'Save for later'" near the save button, should address any concerns. Other then that users would expect to be able to save at any point, with any amount of completed data.

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