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My client is thinking about having an application form, with approximately 25 questions. The type of questions will be personal information such as name, date of birth, address, as well as financial questions, current living arrangements and so on.

They have an idea to make the website look high-tech by only producing one field at a time. They haven't explicitly stated, but I pressumed they could want a 'next' button to view the next field.

Other than the user not knowing how long the form is without some kind of breadcrumb/trail/visual indication, what other usability issues occur with this kind of design?

Is the conventional form structure (all question on one page or a group of questions split out in sections) on a site the best way to gather this information?

And has there been any popular/mainstream sites that use this technique for gathering information? I myself have never seen it, so I want to discourage the client from going with this approach.

I have visited this page Forms? One question at a time or the whole form on one page? but this question is regarding command line, which mine is not. I can also see someone has said as long as it's no longer than 5 questions, but I wanted to know if there was more science/studies to show this, and does this apply to on a browser?

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One question at a time works - if it's used in the correct context.

A pure one question per screen pattern is generally only used for questions that require attention, like quizzes, or have dependencies where one answer can lead to a branching path within the form. The drawback is that for longer forms, it'll take longer to complete if only one question is shown at a time. Each question also works in a vacuum, and does not benefit from being placed in context near related fields. If there is no indication visible that tells a user how many steps are left, they're also much more likely to quit.

Therefore, for long forms it's generally better to split up the form into chunks of questions that can be grouped together. If there is less stuff on screen and only one choice to make or think about, users are more likely to stay on task. Users go into a 'work mode' mode if they're filling out a form that has logically chunked content, so it being longer is not a deterrent per se.

  • +1 for mentioning the importance of context with questions. – Yoshiyahu Jun 14 at 15:53
  • Yeah they said the form has definite groups like contact info, financial, and living arrangements. Not only is separate forms more effort on top of form filling effort, it creates all that cognitive load for no reason. – moot Jun 14 at 16:16
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If we are talking about surveys in the Pros and cons of scrolling and multiple pages in surveys and How to present your survey: on one page or on multiple pages?, they describe the following disadvantages of multiple page design:

  • Paging design requires the respondents to click the Next button every time they finish a question. This can take quite a lot of effort, especially when the surveys have too many questions and pages.
  • Also, the internet connectivity for smartphones is usually not as reliable as for computers. That of course can help to slow respondents’ ability to complete surveys and inadvertently cause survey break-off.
  • Also, when presenting questions page-by-page, instead of on a single page, respondents experienced more technical difficulties and expressed lower satisfaction with the survey.

But they recommend:

Is your survey long? Spread questions out onto a few pages. But! Don’t show only one question per page - you’ll end up with way too many pages.

This approach is also called 'One thing per page'.

This pattern is about splitting up a complex process into multiple smaller pieces, and placing those smaller pieces on screens of their own.

This is good because of reducing cognitive overload that may be worse for users than frequent clicking on 'next' button in case of a long survey. Moreover, in this article you can find out that sometimes more clicks are not so bad.

Nick Babich wrote in his article that displaying only five to seven input fields at a given time was a common practice. But it's better for you to split your 25 questions logically than only by quantity.

And finally, here are 5 Excellent Multi-Page Form Examples for Your Inspiration.

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If your "application form" involves questions that may require that I leave my computer to research them (e.g. look up tax returns, medical records, etc.) then I would appreciate seeing ALL of the questions up front so that I can do the necessary research only once.

That doesn't mean you can't put one question per page, but at least make it possible to preview all of the questions before being forced to answer any of them.

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When you display many fields on one page:

  • User can easily check the input, without being forced to click back button many (20? 30?) times.
  • User can easily check if fields are consistent, e.g. if first name and last name are in the right fields, if city name and street name are in correct fields.
  • It takes less clicks to go through the questions.

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