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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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.



This section describes the various parts of a front page and specifies those elements which are mandatory , discretionary and not permissible. The forms covered by these standards are those which are mailed or delivered to respondents. There are a number of grids available in InDesign to cater for the design of both coloured and black and white forms. The grids provide either 'Times' or 'Verdana' type face, and options for the layout of 'Help Available' details.

Diagram 2.2 (at the end of this chapter) shows the standard template for the coloured front of form page. It uses Times type face, the Australian Business Number (ABN) verification element and option 1 for the layout of the 'Help Available' details. The main paragraphs are fully-justified, which is the recommended layout for blocks of text. It is also designed for OCR readability, however check the OCR chapter for details on the latest design changes.
Mandatory elements

ABS logo

This should be shown in the top left hand corner of the form.

Title of collection

This should be situated to the right of the ABS logo. Use 36 point bold or 24 point bold; if 24 point type will not fit, shorten the title or use 18 point type.
Address box

The address box must include the Australia Post barcode or DPID (Delivery Point Identifier), name, and address (including the locality, state and postcode, extracted from PIMS).

The ABS standard for the maximum number of address lines, including LOCALITY STATE POSTCODE and not including DPID, is six lines.

The positioning of the address box is critical when window faced envelopes are to be used, as any information outside of the box will not be visible through the window. The address box should be positioned 24 mm from the left hand side of the survey form and 42 mm from the top of the survey form. This standard assumes an A4 form printed in portrait style.

The address box format must conform to Australia Post standards, which require:
  • Clear and readable font size and text, with the characters not touching or overlapping. 12 point Courier is preferred by Australia Post, and is therefore the standard;
  • LOCALITY STATE POSTCODE must be upper case (other lines should be in proper case);
  • the DPID must be the first line of address information, above the name and address and left justified;
  • the LOCALITY STATE POSTCODE be the last line of address information, also left justified;
  • all other address lines are left justified.

Vertical spacing is largely determined by Australia Post addressing requirements and will be handled by the Data Collection Unit (DCU) as part of address printing from delimited files provided by the subject matter area.

The fixed height of an address box is therefore used as follows:
"quiet zone" (Spacing) 5 mm
DPID/reference number 6 mm
"quiet zone" (spacing) 2 mm
address information28 mm
"quiet zone" (spacing) 5 mm
Total 46 mm
Horizontal spacing is also largely determined by Australia Post addressing requirements and will be handled by the DCU as part of address printing from the delimited file proved by the client area. Note that:
  • The Provider Integration Management System (PIMS) has a limit of 42 characters for an address line (including blanks);
  • PIMS character limit on LOCALITY is 33, STATE is 3 and POSTCODE is 4; and
  • a window of 103 characters will accommodate most addresses.

The fixed width of an address box is therefore used as follows:
"quiet zone" (spacing)
8 mm
DPID, address, etc.
87 mm
"quiet zone" (spacing)
8 mm
103 mm

The ABS reference number is positioned in the top right hand side of the label (see Diagram 2.1).

An example of an Address Box that illustrates the appropriate amount of spacing and placement of individual elements.
Diagram 2.1

The wording for duplicate forms, which is placed inside the address box, is 'Duplicate Please keep this copy for your records'. Area around address box

This area should be kept as clear of text and 'office use' boxes as possible. Office use boxes should only be preprinted on the forms if they are required for the majority of forms. If they are required for only a minority of cases, the office use box should be added to the form by using a stamp. These boxes should be left out wherever possible as they clutter the look of the form and are of no relevance to the respondent. Current ABS procedure of imaging most forms means these boxes are usually unnecessary.

Instructions use 10 point plain type and are placed in 10% screened boxes drawn with 2 point white lines for forms printed in colour. For forms printed in black and white, instructions should be in 10 point plain type and enclosed in a box drawn with 0.5 point black line. This presents front page instructions in a consistent way with the rest of the form. The instruction 'In correspondence, please quote this number', which is placed above the address box, is an exception to this standard due to the restricted space available. This instruction only should use 12 point plain type and be positioned across the top of the address box, beside a standard arrow.

"Please correct" box

A small instruction box should be positioned next to the address box with an arrow pointing from it to the address box. This instruction should use the words "Please correct any errors". This instruction is required for all forms except those which ask the respondent specifically about name and address details elsewhere. When ABN is not used, this box should be rectangular.Australian Business Number

All collections that go to a reporting unit based on an ABN are required to include a heading and a space near the address box to contain the particular businesses' preprinted ABN. This is to allow respondents to correct the ABN if necessary, and in cases where this box (which is then actually a triangle) is used the "Please correct any errors" instruction should point to both the address box and the ABN box. The ABN itself is printed in 12 point Times. Where the ABN space is used but a particular business does not need one printed, then the words "Not required" should be used in the same font.Statistician's name

The words:

Brian Pink
Australian Statistician

or, (for example)

Mike McGrath
Regional Director

should follow the general instructions used on the front page of the form. They should be in 12 point plain type and left aligned with the text of the mandatory elements.Purpose or scope of the collection

Information explaining the purpose or scope of the collection is used to assist the respondents in understanding the reason for the questions. The exact wording will depend on the survey, but should include what the information collected is actually used for. Providing a justification for the survey to the respondent is a valuable response inducement. Reference to where the information will be published may be included if required, but space concerns may not allow this. Collection authority

The standard wording is, 'The information asked for is collected under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905. Your cooperation is sought in completing and returning this form by the due date. The Act provides me with the power, if needed, to direct you to provide the information sought.'

Note that it is unlikely that we would use the 'compulsory' provisions of the Act where the target population includes government organisations at the Commonwealth, State or Local level. You may therefore choose to omit the last sentence on the collection forms you send to these bodies. The last sentence should also be omitted when the collection is to be undertaken on a voluntary basis.Confidentiality

The standard wording is 'Your completed form remains confidential to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.'Due date

For the majority of forms (which are returned by mail), the standard wording is, 'Please complete this form and return it in the reply paid envelope to the Australian Bureau of Statistics by xx Month 20xx'. The due date itself is in 14 point bold type. Some survey areas prefer to print the due date on the basic form after it has been printed. In this case the normal background shading should still be used. It is important to specify a particular due date rather than a time period because respondents may forget when the form was received, or in the case of staggered despatches they may return the form before the end of the reference period. A combination may be used when the survey area expects that delivery of many forms may be delayed. Help available

An ABS address should be displayed in the Help Available instruction, on the front page or within the form. There are a number of different ways to present this information which provide for the variety of needs of collection areas and form requirements. It is possible to save space on a front page by displaying 'Help Available' details side by side. The contact area given should be the survey area, or just "the Australian Bureau of Statistics" by itself. The Economic Statistics Data Collection (ESDC) should not be mentioned in the address.Option 1 - 'If you have problems in completing this form, or feel that you may have difficulties meeting the due date, please contact (name of contact area) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics by:

(xx) xxxx-xxxx(xx) xxxx-xxxxPostal Address

Option 2 - 'If you have problems in completing this form, or feel that you may have difficulties meeting the due date, please contact (name of contact area) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics by:

Telephone (xx) xxxx-xxxx
Facsimile (xx) xxxx-xxxx
Mail (Postal Address)'

Option 3 - 'If you have problems in completing this form, or feel that you may have difficulties meeting the due date, please contact the Australian Bureau of Statistics in your State or Territory. Details are listed on page # of this form.'Format for telephone numbers

Telephone numbers should be formatted with spaces in the way that they are commonly used. The mobile and 1800 numbers should not have brackets around them, but STD and ISD codes do, see examples below:
  • Mobile numbers - 018 xxx xxx, 015 xxx xxx or 0411 xxx xxx.
  • 1800 numbers or others - 1800 xxx xxx or 0055 xxx xxx
  • STD numbers - (02) xxxx xxxx or (08) xxxx xxxx
  • ISD numbers - (061) (02) xxxx xxxx

1800 numbers should be followed with the label "(Freecall)" as calls to these numbers are completely free to the caller. For 13xxxx or 1300 numbers, Telstra do not have a 'standard' name. It is however a local call charge for the caller.ABS 'Email' addresses

ABS Email addresses should not be given as part of ABS contact information or details. The present ABS position is that unless you can communicate securely with providers, the use of email for any purpose will be seen as legitimising all forms of insecure electronic communication and will lead to (possibly unsolicited) data and other information transmission by providers.Contact details

This information is required to ensure confidentiality within the respondent's organisation. Contact details are requested at the foot of the front page where they will be easy for office staff to locate.

The standard wording for 'Contact Details' is, 'Person we should contact if any queries arise regarding this form' (followed by boxes containing these items):
  • Name
  • Telephone Number
  • Signature
  • Facsimile Number
  • Date

A separate box for 'Position or Title' between 'Name' and 'Signature' should only be used if testing and processing of the form has shown this to be essential. Note that 'Position/Title' refers to the respondent's position or title within the business, not the general title used to indicate marital status and so on. Titles such "Mr" or "Mrs" or "Dr" or whatever for respondents to select from should not be included in the contact details.

'Mobile phone number' may be included between 'Telephone number' and 'Facsimile number' if the target population is known to be difficult to contact at a fixed location during business hours (e.g. farmers, builders, truck drivers). Commonwealth of Australia

A copyright symbol Commonwealth of Australia is placed at the lower left corner of the front page.

Form identifier

A form identifier is used to quickly identify a form. It should be placed on the top right corner of the front page in 14 point bold.Discretionary elements

There are other elements which can be placed on the front page if necessary. These are discussed below.

Coverage of the form

If there is the possibility of confusion over which business or parts of the business the form relates to, the information may be placed in a paragraph on the front page between the Collection Authority and Confidentiality paragraphs. A small instruction box with an arrow pointing to the address box, similar to the "Please correct" box, may also be used if necessary saying "Please complete this form for the Australian-based activities of the business named on this label" however it is preferred that this instruction be presented within the form.Estimates

An instruction to provide careful estimates if exact figures are not available may be included on the front page but is best placed close to where it is needed. Usually this is in the "Please read this first" on page 2. Information on the acceptability of 'estimates' should be considered for inclusion somewhere near the specific questions referred to particularly for matrix type questions. Not permissible on front page


Form designers should not include questions on the front of the form except when the questions are related to the coverage of the survey. A cluttered front page is highly undesirable and on a page that is almost entirely providing information the respondent is likely to miss any element requesting information. Respondents should also not be answering questions without having seen the general notes and reporting instructions usually presented on page 2.Provider email address requests

Until the ABS has the infrastructure in place to enable a move toward greater electronic communication with providers, the collection and use of email addresses will be restricted as much as possible because:
  1. some may be Hotmail or other personal address, use of which may compromise our confidentially obligations if the recipient changes employers and we unknowingly mail them information or a query about their old job;
  2. the ABS can't handle, verify or manage email addresses systematically yet;
  3. collecting providers' email addresses may encourage them to mail ABS email addressees (possibly including data) insecurely; and
  4. having the addresses available may open the possibility of staff to using them to communicate routinely as part of survey processing.
Website address requests

Website address requests are also restricted because:
  1. it is additional provider load for something ABS staff can search for and jump to more easily than can be scanned, repaired, stored and retrieved internally; and
  2. the Website address may not correspond to the correct statistical unit.
Format of email addresses

If email addresses are collected on paper forms the data entry box should be a single segmented text box - i.e. not including a period to break the name up or an ampersand to separate the name from the organisation and domain. It should run the full width of the A4 page and have provision for 30 plus characters because addresses can have such different formats and lengths.

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