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Recently the question Is the term 'field' too technical when giving messages on a form? was asked with the top-rated answer saying that in messages, you should instead refer to the information that is required (e.g. "Your name is required"). Some user comments further elaborated that less technical users may not have an explicit understanding of what a field actually is, so refering to the data contained within the field is better.

This is a great suggestion, but it seems to me that it is mostly limited to error messages and may not be practical when first presenting the form. Traditionally, I have seen forms with required fields marked with an asterisk like this:

Name* __________________________
Address* _______________________
City * _________________________
State* ___________ ZIP* ________
Birthday________________________
Favorite Color _________________

*Required field

Notice how at the bottom there is the word "required field" to note that any field with an asterisk following its name is required.

The previous question indicated that "required field" is not a great term to use. Is there a less technical term that can be used?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Considering the info in the post you mentioned that suggests "field" isn't the best term, I'd suggest:

*this information is required

Nice and simple!

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Given that most of the information is required what about separating the optional fields below a nice "Optional information". From a psychological point of view this would lead to a more positive reaction on the user's side.

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I've seen that done, and sometimes it works. Other times it doesn't make sense. For example, in many forms I work with that require contact information, we have required fields for street address and daytime phone number, with optional fields for address line 2 (i.e. apartment, suite, etc.) and evening phone number. It's confusing and breaks the flow of data entry if the user has to enter part of his address in one place and part in another. An example where it would make sense is when the optional info is entirely discrete from the required (i.e. pet's name on a pet store registration.) –  EmmyS Feb 3 at 21:29
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