Should placeholder text in fields only be used when there is no label for the field?

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Is it better to remove the placeholder text in a field on focus or when the user starts typing? Facebook e.g. doesn't empty the field until the user starts typing.

  • Also note the placeholder text like this is usually written in italic and gray font, to indicate it's less "substantial" than "real" text. – Dvir Adler May 21 '13 at 10:44

In terms of example text: Personally I have no problem using both;

  • where there is a label, the example text indicates format (e.g. Date mm/dd/yyyy)
  • where there is no label, the function and example text should be pretty unambiguous, e.g. Search.

So in your example, the label isn't adding anything so may be able to remove it, or remove the example text.

Emptying example text when the user starts typing could make the user feel that they need to delete the text, so I remove onFocus.

  • +1 for thelast paragraph - if there is text in a box it has to be deleted – mmmmmm May 21 '13 at 12:18
  • @Mark Exactly ! I hate them websites who make me delete what I never put in there ! – happybuddha May 21 '13 at 13:48

The example texts that you are referring to is called watermark.

Watermark can be used even when there is a label corresponding to input text box. This is a kind of guideline for the user on the kind / type of input the system expects in the input box.

Watermark has to go when the user starts typing but not onfocus. This will help the user in knowing / memorizing the type of data he is supposed to enter till he starts typing. Sometimes it may be that user is not really ready with the data that he is going to key in as he visits the input box. But the moment he starts typing, he is more likely ready with the data he is going to key in.

Following are some links that refer this kind of hint text as watermark:


Following are some examples from famous sites having watermark not cleared on focus but on user starts typing:

  • Search in gmail:

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  • Signup Details screen in Facebook:

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  • Search in stackexchange:

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  • 8
    I think you're wrong here. It's not called Watermark, it's Placeholder as it's an HTML5 attribute. Also, you've only partially answered the question as you haven't explained when it is appropriate to use it. Also, your answer reads as just your own opinion. Why do you say the watermark (placeholder) has to go when the user starts typing but not on focus? – JonW May 21 '13 at 10:07
  • I dont know whats wrong with this answer. This kind of text displayed in Input box is not a text that can be deleted by user. It is water mark and system takes it off as user starts typing. – rags May 21 '13 at 11:08
  • A watermark is a faint mark of a creator's name on a piece of their work (e.g. what you may find on the bottom of a mug). A similar concept, but I don't think the term is correct in this context. – Brendon May 22 '13 at 13:01

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