My preference is to display radio buttons vertically per common recommendations, per some research on completion speed, and to take advantage of Fitt's Law.

However, I often get push back with regard to space constraints. While I'm moving ahead with my recommendations, I would like to hear from Devil's Advocates for alternative approaches. Here are a few I came up with, available here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_vkC3_ZQ0bkT3ZKcTNBLWhNNVE/edit

Any suggested alternatives that you think work better than what I have?

3 Answers 3


In the illustrated case, radio buttons are inappropriate. This should be presented as "Who has a hammer in your household?" with just two checkboxes, one for "you" and one for "spouse".

  • The question assumes hammer in the house. In this case, we don't want to assume since, so perhaps a better question would be more along the lines of a qualification question for a government entity.Were we to change the wording to be more like this, what do you think? Do Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 18:03
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    In fact no, if no one has a hammer, no box gets checked in. The question could be phrased as: "Who (if any) has a hammer in your household?" Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 18:32
  • Think of it this way: each checkbox is effectively a pair of Yes and No radio buttons combined into one element. In which case, Sparr's suggestion is a reworded version of examples #2 and #3.
    – scronide
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 18:38
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    If that's a survey of some sort, there is a very good reason to have radio buttons instead of checkboxes: distinguishing a “no” from a non-response. With radio buttons, you can check if nothing was selected and possibly print out an error (you could also add a “don't know”/NA choice if you want to allow the user to skip the question). Empty checkboxes are ambiguous, it could mean “I rummaged through the whole house several times and I am telling you that nobody has a hammer” but it could also mean “I couldn't care less about hammers, show me the next page already”. It's a big difference.
    – Gala
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 9:07
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    Incidentally, all these misguided comments about the wording of the question seem completely beside the point, the question was about layout alternatives…
    – Gala
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 9:09

I think we are getting bogged down with the illustration question and not the solution! I don't think Kelley really wants to ask about domestic tool ownership, but yes you wouldn't normally use radio buttons for yes/no answers.

If we are talking about appropriate radio button questions (i.e. which member of the household most often uses a hammer - you, your spouse, child 1, child 2) my preference (for efficient space and ease of use) is pattern 4 as people are used to scanning and clicking tables like this.

It would also depend on what other questions you plan to ask. Will they all fit into this format? Changing the styling too often will frustrate people and risk them abandoning the form.

The other reason for using this pattern is that it makes the person read the question before reaching the radio buttons below which allows it to sink in. Putting lists of questions with the radio buttons alongside i.e. pattern 3 encourages people to jump to the answers


You shouldn't ask who has a hammer if there isn't one in the house. Ignoring the qualms about asking spouses who "has" a hammer, which is presumably a rough example, dependent questions should only appear dynamically. This solves many of the problems with space constraints, with the benefit that a smaller form is more likely to be filled out.

  • I think I will reword the original question and try Sparr's checkbox suggestion. Sparr is correct that checkbox is more appropriate. In this case, it might not fly due to the fact that this is a government related entity and there must be due diligence that it's clear that the person filling otu the form saw that the question was asked for the spouse and asked for the main respondent. At this time, the application logic doesn't support the ability to dynamically hide/show next questions based on previous answer. Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 18:21

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