I am trying to design how an assigned administrator for a web app that manages students and audiobooks, can generate a report to view the data in longituginal graph. The admin can either view information to see the data through the context of an audiobook, an individual student, or a group of students.

The problem I am facing is: In order for a user (admin) to input the criteria, is it best to supply data fields with a submit button, or perhaps having a list of options (check boxes and drop downs) and allow the user to select the criteria they wish to be seen?

I have supplied a screen shot of a wireframe (I have not assessed the terminology yet)that can function as a type of reporting.

Wireframe of reporting

  • So your question boils down to more dropdown form style vs checkboxes, or...? I'm trying to think of a more descriptive title
    – Ben Brocka
    Jun 1, 2012 at 14:39

3 Answers 3


Check Boxes and drop-downs are advantageous in two ways.

  1. When you've got a small number of options, it makes it easier for the user to figure out what they want without having to remember a ton of different things.
  2. If your users are incompetent (they always are, every time, no exceptions) it prevents them from screwing up data input, usually via improper format.

Problem is, they can get unwieldy if you've got too many options. But, in general, I would always advise using them when you can. I hate text boxes and so does everyone else.

I'm assuming you mean text input fields when you say data fields. If not, my apologies.

  • Hey Moby, I did in fact mean text input fields when i said data fields. I am trying to avoid text boxes as much as possible for the simple fact I do not want to leave a user open ended, just given the complexity of the form to generate, and making it as customizable as possible, i think I might be able to achieve it via check boxes and drop downs. I appreciate the input, thank you!
    – Kyle Mirro
    Jun 4, 2012 at 12:59
  • Depending on your development knowledge, an Google style Auto-complete form could work if that's your only option (due to complexity and what not). Just put all the options for the field in the file that's queried and don't allow any options to be picked unless they are available via the auto-complete.
    – Will
    Jun 4, 2012 at 13:08

Giving controls to select is a good way to reduce confusion and cognitive load on the user. But for advance users, you can given quick search tool on the top. when typed auto suggest keywords should appear. Also provide Favorites, which user would like to access regularly.

  • Hey Rupesh, I appreciate your feedback, the quick search tool tip on top is interesting. Do you mean perhaps having auto suggested keywords that would relate to a certain type of reporting (in this case)?
    – Kyle Mirro
    Jun 4, 2012 at 13:01
  • Yes exactly, auto suggest will help. Also if you are integrating webanalytics, then it will help the client to identify the pain areas for accessing the application / website and then improve them. Jun 4, 2012 at 13:31
  • One more observation when I saw your wireframe. What is the difference between Dashboard and Reporting, can't you merge both of them as one. Dashboard is meant for monitoring and mentoring of the thing available in it. So Reporting can be one of the feature inside the dashboard itself. Just a thought !! Jun 4, 2012 at 13:33

Since users may not always know what to type I think providing controls with choices could be a better option. In addition, a mechanism to quickly filter the choices is helpful so that the dropdown selection jumps to the right choice without scrolling and scanning.

Side note: I would also get rid of the word "Select" from the labels since it is easier for the users to scan the choices when the keywords show up at the beginning.

  • Hey Anna, I appreciate the feedback. I was leaning towards having controls and choices for the simple reason this can be complex form to generate. Simplifying input from the user to create the most customizable outcome if what I am trying to narrow down. I was most certainly going to remove the word "select", I just have it there for clarity right now :)
    – Kyle Mirro
    Jun 4, 2012 at 12:56

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