1530.0 - ABS Forms Design Standards Manual, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2010  First Issue
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Contents >> Paper Form Design Standards >> Summary of Form Design Standards


While aspects of these standards will be of interest to those outside the ABS, they were developed for internal use. As such, some information contained in these standards will not be applicable to an external audience. ABS staff should refer to the Corporate Manuals database for the most recent version of these documents, as some details (names, phone numbers etc.) have been removed from the online version.


The following is a summary of the design standards for ABS self completion survey forms. More detailed explanations of the standards and procedures for developing forms are provided in the earlier chapters. Note that the use of optical character recognition (OCR) on forms requires some modifications to these design standards. The standards for OCR forms are also provided in separate chapters.

Front of form

Should be based on the standard Front Page.

Mandatory elements (must be included):
ABS logo
  • The logo is included on all front page grids documents.

Title of collection
  • 36 point bold or 24 point bold; if 24 point type will not fit, shorten the title or use 18 point type

Address box
  • Position critical

Area around address box
  • Keep as clear as possible
  • The instruction to quote a reference number should use 12 point plain type and be positioned above the address label
  • All other instructions should be placed in a 10% screened box drawn with a 2 point white line (for forms printed in colour) or a box drawn with a 0.5 point black line (for black and white forms)
  • Standard arrow heads should be used around the address label

Statistician or Deputy Commonwealth Statistician's name
  • 12 point plain leading caps only
  • Following general instructions
  • Left aligned with text of the mandatory elements

Purpose of the collection
  • Wording open
  • Heading 12 point bold
  • Text 12 point plain

Collection authority
  • Set wording to be used
  • Heading 12 point bold
  • Text 12 point plain

  • Set wording to be used
  • Heading 12 point bold
  • Text 12 point plain

Due date
  • Set wording to be used
  • Heading 12 point bold
  • Text 12 point plain
  • Date 14 point bold

Help available
  • Set wording to be used (3 format choices)
  • Heading 12 point bold
  • Text 12 point plain
  • ABS address details included

Contact details
  • Use standard presentation
  • The front page 'grids' contain a standard layout of the 'Contact details'

Signature details
  • Included in 'Contact Details' on front page.

Form number
  • 14 point bold
  • Top right hand corner of the front page (inside the 5 mm text and line boundary)

Discretionary elements may be included on the front page, or on the second or later pages of the form:

Scope of the collection

Coverage of the form

Wording for 'Duplicate' in Address box
  • 'Duplicate': 24 point bold
  • 'Please keep this copy for your records': 18 point bold
  • Centred within the address box

Remainder of form layout
  • Should be based on one of the standard full page, split page or OCR grids.

  • Do all questions looks like Questions? Are they all numbered in a straight numeric sequence throughout the whole form?
  • Are all instructions set out in the same way?
  • Are all answer spaces in a similar position on the page?

Logical sequence
  • Is any 'back tracking' required?

Page margins
  • 5 mm text and line boundary
  • Keep all text and answer spaces including page numbers inside these boundaries

Page number
  • 12 point plain
  • Centred on the top of each page except the front page

Lines and boxes
  • Standards for drawing lines and boxes on ABS forms are:

  • All answer boxes should be aligned to each other as much as possible by using the 'grids'

Guide lines
  • 0.5 point dotted lines as guides for writing in answer boxes
  • Irregular 0.5 point dotted line as an eye-guide from the question to the answer space

Line weights for Coloured forms
  • 2 point white line for dividing columns
  • 2 point white line for dividing sections
  • 2 point white line for boxes containing instructions
  • 0.5 point black line for answer boxes
  • 1 point black line for answer boxes asking for totals

Line weights for black and white forms
  • 0.5 point black line for dividing columns
  • 0.5 point black line for dividing sections
  • 0.5 point black line for boxes containing instructions
  • 0.5 point black line for answer box
  • 1 point black line for answer box asking for a total

Answer space
  • Must be the only white area on the form (on coloured forms)
  • Should be correctly aligned to grid line(s)
  • 4 mm width per character in answer space
  • 8 mm height for single line answer spaces and 8 mm per line in answer boxes where there is more than one line
  • The bottom of the box is the last writing line

  • A '$' sign in 12 point plain, placed at the left outside the answer space, and
  • For coloured forms, ',000' in 10 point plain type, placed at the right hand side of the answer space, with a 10% screen behind the ',000' caption
  • For black and white forms, ',000' in 12 point plain type, placed at the right hand side of the answer space
  • Different standards apply for matrices and columns of boxes, where the '$,000' caption is placed above the answer spaces

Ballot (or tick) boxes
  • 4 mm square or 8mm by 4mm for No/Yes where appropriate.
  • For 'No/Yes' answer boxes, the order of the 'No/Yes' choices must be consistent through the entire form
  • When used with short captions, place ballot boxes approximately 3 mm to the right of captions. Longer captions should be left aligned, with the text joined to the ballot box with an eye-guide line

  • Typography standards for ABS collection form elements are:

Upper-case Vs leading capitals
  • ALL CAPITALS should not be used on ABS forms
  • Use leading capitals only

Line length of text
  • Max 115 mm (at 100%)
  • Equivalent to 92 mm on 80% sized draft copies

Type face family (font)
  • Verdana or
  • Times

Correct font and sizes
  • Section heading - 14 point bold
  • Sub-section heading - 14 point plain
  • Question number - 14 point bold
  • Question - 12 point bold
  • Sub-question - 12 point plain (for further subsidiary questions, other standards apply)
  • Instruction, Definition, Including/Excluding Note etc.
    • Heading: 10 point italics bold
    • Text: 10 point plain
    • Bullet: 10 point plain
  • Bold type or type of two points larger size, may be used for emphasis of a few key words

Major notes at beginning and completion of form
  • The heading 'Please read this first' (18 point bold) should be centred above the general instructions, in an instruction box before the questions begin
  • The general instructions should use 12 point plain type
  • Major notes at the completion of a form should use 12 point plain type and be placed in an instruction box

Instructions Vs Questions
  • Where additional explanatory words follow immediately after the question text, these words should use 12 point plain type and be placed in brackets

Include for exclude
  • Exclude items to be included at another place on the form should be identified by a note in brackets after the 'Excluding' item

Column headings in a matrix
  • 10 point plain type centred above columns
  • Placed in a box drawn with a 2 point white line, containing 10% screen for coloured forms
  • Placed in a box drawn with a 0.5 point solid lines, without screens for black and white forms

Punctuation/use of a full stop '.'
  • A full stop should be used at the end of a 'Note' as it is a complete sentence
  • Lists under 'Including' and 'Excluding' should not use a full stop

Hyphens and 'en' dashes
  • Hyphen used only in a word-break
  • 'en' dash used for
  • sub-sub-sub-questions
  • Help available 'Telephone', 'Facsimile' and 'Mail' details
  • ' (continued)'

  • Use complete words such as 'for example' and 'that is' where there is sufficient space
  • Only use where they are commonly understood
  • Include full stops for example, 'e.g.', 'etc.', 'i.e.'

'Questions continue over the page'
  • 14 point bold
  • Placed in the bottom right hand corner of page (inside the 5 mm text and line boundary)

' (continued)'
  • Use where a section or question continues over more than one page (or column)
  • Repeat text of question or section heading, followed by ' (continued)'
  • ' (continued)'should use same font and style as the text being repeated

'Thank you for completing this form'
  • 14 point bold, centred at end of form

Time taken
  • Use mandatory wording and layout

  • Mandatory but wording and layout negotiable

'Go to' instruction
  • 'Go to question' uses 12 point plain type, followed by the question number (only) in 14 point bold
  • When 'Go to Section' or 'Go to Part', the instruction should include the section or part number as well as the word 'Section' or 'Part' as it appears on the form
  • 'Go to' instruction only included where the form filler is asked to 'skip over' following questions

Data entry or processing codes
  • Use different typeface to the rest of the form, i.e. 9 point Verdana bold on form using Times, or 9 point Times on form using Verdana; or
  • 9 point Verdana bold, reversed out of a solid rectangle on form using Times or Verdana
  • Place data entry codes to the right of answer boxes

Office use only boxes
  • Should be drawn using a 0.5 point line
  • On coloured forms, the box should sit on the 20% background screen and not contain any white space or 10% shading

Construction and Colour

ABS standard colours, using approved colour combinations only should be used.

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