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Is it a good user experience to be able to hit enter at anytime when filling out a form to submit the form?

I understand if it is on the last field on a login form and you hit enter it submits. However, if you are filling out a long form and hit enter in the middle of the form should it submit?

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Generally - yes, it is best practice to allow the user to hit enter to submit the form at any time.

if you are filling out a long form and hit enter in the middle of the form should it submit?

Specifically to this use case, your form needs to constructed properly to apply the action appropriately.

If there are required fields that are blank the form should not submit. Client side validation would help the user verify any missing fields.

If there are optional fields that are blank your interface should not force the user to click through them to be able to press enter. Imagine a form with 20 fields, 4 being required - not allowing the enter key to submit the form at all, or only when the focus is on the last field, basically forces the user to go to the mouse. They aren't going to tab 16 times so they can press enter.

While not necessarily a situation in many consumer applications, think of it in terms of data entry. I should be able to enter multiple records without having to take my hands off the keyboard, thus I should be able to press enter whenever I need to (assuming required fields are complete).

Switching between input devices is also considered time consuming. Multiple steps need to happen in order for this to happen - the user needs to:

  1. mentally stop engagement with the keyboard,
  2. find and move to the mouse,
  3. switch interaction mental models to using the mouse,
  4. find the cursor on the screen,
  5. find the target,
  6. move the cursor to the target and
  7. finally engage with the target.
  8. repeat to move your focus back the keyboard.

This can all take a few seconds. Not a big deal if I'm just dealing with a form or questionnaire that I'm only to going to fill out once; but go back to the data entry example and multiply those interaction requirements a few hundred times. The time "wasted" in switching input modes starts to become quite measurable, and the back-and-forth is just annoying for the user.

  • Thanks for your feedback. I'm not at all favoring switching functionality between the shift and enter keys. I just think that if someone hits the enter key in the middle of a form, that's going to typically be a mistake. I appreciate your comment about about the required fields remaining, and not submitting. I think this is the best balance. All in favor for hitting enter to submit, but only when we know that the user can successfully submit. – whatsnewsaes Feb 25 '16 at 15:17
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Im dealing with this as well at the moment. We have long forms with elements (like select lists, and file downboxes) that use enter to activate the element, so it's getting a little confusing when enter is being used to facilitate filling in the form, and also to submit it at "any time".

My solution so far is to have a dialog asking if you're sure you want to submit the form, with the default option being yes and focussed - so those who are savvy (filling in the form alot etc) could essentially "double-enter" to submit the form - however for users who are new, or aren't expecting to submit the form when they hit enter, it at least allows them to stop the submission and go back to complete the form.

From an accessibility POV, there needs to be consistency too - which Im struggling with a little. Enter is considered to active/select - which when we have submission buttons, should be used there - not mid-form on a non-submission element. So, while its convenient for some to be able to submit the form mid-form, for consistency and accessibility, I would present a dialog - just incase.

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