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 >> Electronic Forms >> Excel Forms >> Excel 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 Excel Form Design Standards developed by Data Collection Methodology (DCM) include the standards common to all electronic forms as well as those standards specific to Excel forms.

Other parts of the standards and guidelines within the Forms Design Standards Manual cover broad principles, and will eventually cover Web Instruments.
Policy on use of Excel in the ABS for Electronic Data Reporting (EDR)

Briefly, at present Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) policy is to:
  • minimise the use of EDR;
  • ensure that any EDR undertaken is secure; and to
  • handle EDR requests and instrument generation centrally.

Several Excel forms have been developed as part of the ABS' response to the Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) to accommodate businesses and people who insist or need to report to us electronically.

To minimise costs for what is expected to be an interim low volume solution with a limited-life, these electronic forms will not include any validation, links to databases, or initial information about a provider such as contact information as is the case with many paper forms.
Use of spreadsheets

The details of spreadsheet construction for data capture have two audiences - areas that have instruments already in place and areas that have Electronic Transactions Act related requests from providers who insist on reporting electronically.

Where spreadsheets are already in use the aim should be to incorporate as much of these Excel standards as practicable - this should be done in consultation with DCM, who have an approval role for all business electronic collection forms.

In the case of unavoidable Electronic Transactions Act and other requests, the standards are for information only because the necessary spreadsheets for data capture will be constructed in line with these standards by the Collection Management Unit (CMU).

Any question structures or paper form design elements that are not catered for by these standards will be developed by DCM, CMU and TA-ESG as necessary and then included in the bank of template forms.

At present, spreadsheets should only be used in the limited circumstances where:
  1. we need to accommodate providers who insist on reporting electronically because of their right to do so under the Electronic Transactions Act, or the ESDC Clearing House considers it justified on the grounds of security, cost, type of provider, whether an existing instrument exists and what other alternatives exist;
  2. for structured data files (including 'Administrative by-product') where provider contact and liaison are such that we can be sure that the (preferably automatic) mapping to an ABS format is well understood and will continue to be accurate. If only a transport medium for a data extract is needed there is a case to be made for using a .csv file or Multi-Unit (Horizontal) Excel form; and
  3. they are already in reasonably widespread use for ESG (e.g. Public Finance Local Government).

Broad Design Principles

In addition to Excel-specific standards, Excel EDR instruments should also use and conform to the common standards for all electronic forms. See the remainder of the ABS Forms Design Standards Manual for principles and guidelines regarding layout, question construction and formatting. There are some departures from this, particularly for Multi-Unit forms, for example using smaller fonts. These are discussed in the relevant sections.

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