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 chapter shows you how to integrate the graphic elements discussed in later Chapters into a composite form.

Remember, you should have consulted with standards areas and finalised the form's question schedule before you begin design work on the layout.
Page margins
Top5 mm
Bottom5 mm
Inside edge7 mm
Outside edge5 mm

Keep all text or answer spaces inside the boundary. On coloured forms, the background screen has to cover the A4 page boundary but should not cover more than 1/4 of the trim marks (corner marks) if these are used, (See Diagram 3.1).

A diagram that illustrates the standard page margains that are described in the paragraph above.
Diagram 3.1Form identifiers

All survey forms must include a form identifier in the top right corner of every page. On the front of the form, the identifier should be 14 point bold (see the Front of Form chapter), while on the remaining pages, it should be 12 point plain. The identifier should appear to the left of the registration mark and no higher than the page number and registration mark (Diagram 3.2).

The form identifier should include some mnemonic to assist respondent recognition and reference, especially when dealing with the ABS by telephone - for instance 'NOM32' and not 'FORM32'.

An example from the top of form that shows the correct placement of the form identifer, inline with the page number and registration mark.
Diagram 3.2Consistency and sequence

You should follow two important principles in the layout of forms: consistency and logical sequence.

The layout must follow the consistent set of graphic conventions in this standard. All of the type, graphic and layout conventions used in your form must be followed consistently through the entire form. Lack of consistency will lead to errors and increased processing costs.

The sequence in which material is presented on the form should be the same as the sequence in which you expect respondents to work through the form. For example, do not separate notes from questions. Do not expect respondents to backtrack through the form or to follow a non-sequential route. They must always move forward one step at a time. Breaks in the linear sequence will give rise to respondent errors.

If you want respondents to read particular instructions before they answer a question, place them immediately after the question (see Diagram 3.3) and before or to the left of the answer box. Instruction boxes should never be below the answer box or respondents will answer the question without reading the instruction.

An example question that has an Including box immediately after the main questions wording.
Diagram 3.3

In general it is strongly recommended that explanatory notes are not presented all together at the beginning or the end of a form unless they apply to most of the questions. Separating instructions (notes, includings and excludings, definitions etc) from the questions discourages respondents from reading them at all, especially if they are after the relevant questions rather than before them. No-one likes having to flip back and forth between pages, or if the notes are separated completely, looking back and forth over two pages as this is too wide a visual field.

Presenting instructions all in one block also encourages the more diligent respondent to try and read them all at once. Processing them this way and then trying to remember everything is a much more difficult task than reading each instruction right before the question and only having to remember each bit for a few seconds.
In those few cases where separating the notes is necessary, it is preferred that they are presented at the beginning of the form. In that case the respondent will see that the notes exist as they go sequentially through the pages, and they will at least skim over the notes to get a general idea what is in them before beginning the questions.

One reason a forms designer might put all the instructions at the beginning of a form is when the respondent needs to know what is required for different parts of the form, so they don't put their data in the wrong place. In this situation it might be more appropriate to use a contents list, generally formed from section or part headings. Contents on ABS forms should generally not use page numbers as they are intended as overviews only, not to help respondents skip to sections they are interested in. Contents lists can be used whenever a form is reasonably long or contains modules of quite distinct topics (see Diagram 3.4).

An example of using a contents list for the form with four parts.
Diagram 3.4Helping the Respondent

In order to obtain accurate data, the respondent has to be motivated to provide it. One way of motivating the respondent is to make the form interesting to complete. This can be done through graphical presentation: the use of space, layout and colours.

The answer boxes should allow sufficient space for a high percentage of likely answers, e.g. providing a space 8 mm high and 4 mm wide for each handwritten letter will accommodate over 80% of handwriting styles. On this basis, for example where one answer is usually 3 digits, sometimes 4 and in exceptional cases 12 digits, it would be reasonable to allow for a four digit answer 8 mm x 16 mm (i.e. 4 x 4 mm) and not necessary to provide 8 mm x 48 mm (12 x 4 mm). As well as wasting space, providing for the largest possible answer creates large white boxes. The respondent sees the number and sizes of the answer spaces (white boxes) as an immediate indication of the amount of 'work' or 'effort' involved in completing the form.

Poor use of any forms design element, be it language, question sequencing, layout etc., creates an obstacle for the respondent. Each obstacle may be only minor, but they all accumulate in the person's mind until a point is reached when they become too much and the person no longer cares about what goes on the form. This point is known as the fatigue point,and its presence can be quite marked.

After this point has been reached the quality of responses to questions diminishes noticeably. It is therefore important to keep to a minimum the possible sources of aggravation for the respondent so that the form is filled in before the fatigue point is reached. Apart from ensuring that good form design principles are adhered to, anything that is not essential to the form-filling activity (and to the other functions of the form) should be removed.Using layout grids

A layout grid is a plan that gives you the positions on a page for each of the graphic elements of the form. The grids will help you achieve consistent layouts. There is a separate grid available in InDesign for each type of page on the form.Front page

The layout grid for the front page is designed for both single and double column layouts. Single column layouts are preferred for the front page because this allows a less cluttered appearance. Chapter 2 shows how a front page is constructed, including more detail about each of the elements which may be included on a front page.Full page

The full page layout creates a spread-out arrangement of questions that is often the most attractive layout. The grid for the full page allows for the incorporation of notes alongside answer boxes. Split page

The split page is an alternative which has some advantages over the full page as it offers a better use of space particularly where a great many short questions and answers are used. It gives a more clearly structured linear design for respondents to follow. The short line width is easier for respondents to read. The split page cannot be used where there is a need for an answer box or matrix crossing the full width of the page.

Do not mix single column and double column designs on the one page as the mix of layouts may lead to some instructions or questions being overlooked. A split page layout above a full page layout is likely to cause a large number of respondents to overlook the right hand column at the top of the page. Similarly, response options that go across the page rather than down should be avoided because the layout contrast to the rest of the form forces the respondent into a different reading pattern that can lead to error.

Using some pages with a single column layout and some with a double column layout in the one form is acceptable if necessary as long as the layout does not change too often. Do not use triple columns.Use of matrices

A matrix is an answer box divided into two or more columns, which may be grouped together under a hierarchy of column headings, with a set of sub-questions listed down the left hand side of the answer box. When using a matrix it is difficult to place instructions with the questions they refer to. That is why forms that use matrices are one exception to the rule against the separation of instructions from their questions.Proximity

The Gestalt law of proximity (see Jenkins and Dillman, 1997) states that when similar items are located in close proximity they are seen as belonging together. Arranging the elements on a form carefully so that the right parts are seen as a group is essential in aiding completion of the form. All the elements within a question: the question text, the notes, the answer options and the answer boxes, should all be closer to each other vertically than they are to surrounding questions so the respondent can see the question as a whole.

An example of the violation of this law is shown below (see Diagram 3.5). Note that the answer box for question 8 vertically overlaps the top of the text of question 9. This proximity to the elements of question 9 rather than to the other elements of question 8 makes it difficult for someone reading this to determine which question the answer box belongs to.

An example of question where the data entry fields from two questions appear too close together, therefore violating the law of proximity.
Diagram 3.5

Proximity also guides the order in which a respondent will read elements within a question. If a question requires a response for each of several categories that are presented in a grid (see Diagram 3.6) it is important that the respondent's eye is guided in the right direction. If the respondent is supposed to read the items across the page, there must be less space between columns than between the rows, and vice versa when the respondent should read down the page.

An example question where the horisontal space between data entry fields displayed in a grid is smaller than the vertical space. The result is that respondents correctly read across the page before reading down the page.
Diagram 3.6References
  • Jenkins, Cleo R., & Dillman, Don A. (1997) "Towards a theory of self-administered questionnaire design" Survey Measurement and Process Quality, Lyberg et al (eds), John Wiley & Sons, 165-195.

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