A piece of software that I'm updating uses some incredibly long labels, but due to the nature of the software (taxes and payroll) this seems unavoidable at times. On some pages, maybe 50% of the labels look like this in the current implementation:

current label design

To make this easier on the eyes, I'm considering whether I should phrase these long labels as questions:

label as question

But this makes the label somewhat harder to scan, and the label has been like this for about 10 years so many users are familiar with it as is.

Another option would be to present these options as a list of checkboxes, which might work better when there are a number of shorter options on the same page that cannot be worded as a question: label using checkbox

I'm curious how others have handled this and if there is a better solution. For the application that I'm working on, most of these options are boolean but there are others that may involve a dropdown or some other control. The layouts begin to look particularly cluttered and difficult to read when there are a mixture of different controls in conjunction with long labels. The application is also for trained expert users within this industry.

  • 4
    Please bear in mind that with electronic submissions of tax forms there may be a (legal) difference between "not answered the question", and either of the choices or a numeric value. In other words: not answered is not the same as No or zero (in case of numerical answers). So with y/n questions there is a good case to be made for actually having two checkboxes that can be both unchecked but not be both checked. And with numerical values you may have to refrain from showing (and sending) zero even when using that value in calculations. May 5, 2011 at 6:18

3 Answers 3


When I was involved with tax software (not in the US by the way) we also had a huge variety in the length of the labels. We dealt with it by adopting a two-column approach. One column for the labels and one for the answers. So the answers would always be at the same distance from the left edge and long labels would word wrap and simply take up more vertical space.

a long line of question            v yes     v no
that needed to be broken up

a short question                   v yes     v no

Added bonus here is that it the lines of text are shorter which makes them easier to read.


You can try breaking the title in two by moving part of it into the answer options. It would also make the answers clearer, like this:

Post-Tax Deduction Codes for Domestic Partners:   () Needed
                                                  () Not needed

This may cost you some height, because you'll probably need to stack the answer options on top of each other - otherwise it will look a bit chaotic because of the different lengths of the answers for each question.

  • 1
    I like this solution better, it removes one step of thinking. Good job Vitaly
    – jonshariat
    Jul 3, 2012 at 17:04

I think your solution:

enter image description here

is the better one in this case. The other two are incredibly confusing to read and figure out.

In the top one its hard to tell what the result anser to the question is when click yes or no. It takes an extra moment to go back and look for the word "required" In the last one it is confusing if the check mark is a yes or uncheck is a "not required"

Another solution you may want to consider is color coding words.

Are post-tax deduction Codes needed for domestic partners? [ ]Y [ ]N

Bold are the words I would change, bold them, or create a color code for certain groups of terms. (though if they need to be printed black and white, just stick with bolding and italics)

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