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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?

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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
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    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
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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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