I'm working on a large data-entry application.

I'm wondering what is the better method for displaying drop-down lists where the defaulted value is null.

I see a couple of options:

  • Option a) Use a placeholder " -- Select-- "
  • Option b) Use no placeholder " "
  • Option c) Use a placeholder " -- Select --" on mandatory fields only

What is considered that more appropriate way of labeling fields?


Are you denoting required fields by some other method such as the beloved red asterisk?

The null value of a select dropdown should not be used to signal a required field because if you are working with a large form then you have to think way harder about each individual field which will lead to inevitable frustration.

  • Yes, I am using a red asterisks. – Mark May 8 '14 at 12:21
  • 1
    Instead of using -- Select --, which is nonsensical to a general user, for null <option> tags I would personally recommend something more verbose. For example: entering a gender I would have a <label>Gender</label> and use I am... for the null placeholder. If something is going to stay relatively the same then you could weigh the advantages of doing a default for something like Country where it is probably going to be one choice 95% of the time. If you do want a generic null text then I would recommend a simple --- because it takes less brain processing power – MonkeyZeus May 8 '14 at 12:55
  • This is the solution I was looking for. Thank you! – Mark May 8 '14 at 13:33
  • You're welcome! and good luck! – MonkeyZeus May 8 '14 at 13:45

If a default value is acceptable, then option c) is a commonly accepted approach. Don't make the user feel forced to make a default choice, as they might with a).

Consider populating the "blank" field with either the default value or behavior. For example, if you have a field marked "delay (optional)" , populate the field with explanatory value, such as "0 seconds" or "no delay". If you leave it blank, it is not immediately clear what the delay option might be.

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