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 >> Lines and Boxes


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.


Ruled lines

When drawing your form keep the amount of ink on the form to the minimum necessary for the form to work properly.

Every extra bit of ink on the form is looked at and evaluated by the respondent. If it is not necessary and has to be (mentally) discarded, it contributes only to the respondent load and to the subsequent detriment of the data quality.

The basic principle you should always follow is to use as few lines as is absolutely necessary. The lines you use should be no thicker than is needed to do the job and should be consistent throughout the form.

You can use lines for several purposes on forms. These are shown below. The thickness of the lines varies depending on whether a coloured or a black and white form is used. Line thickness can be specified in InDesign.
Dividing columns
A line used for dividing columns should be used for all split page layouts. The line should begin at the top of the first line of type (or the top of any boxes) and end at the bottom of the last line of type (or the base of any boxes) (see Diagram 4.1).

Diagram 4.1
Dividing sections

For a full page layout, the ends of a line used for dividing sections should be both left and right aligned with the widest spaced objects on a page (see Diagram 4.2). For a split page layout, the section dividers and column dividers should join neatly, but ensure they don't form a cross (section dividers in both columns meeting), otherwise respondents may incorrectly read across the page rather than down. Section dividers should only be used when necessary for easy navigation of a form, and when used they should be consistent throughout the form.

Diagram 4.2
Defining boxes containing instructions

Boxes containing instructions should have a 2 point white line around them for coloured forms, and a 0.5 black line for black and white forms (see Diagram 4.3).

Diagram 4.3
Defining answer box boundaries

The 0.5 point line is used for normal answer boxes on both coloured and black and white forms (see Diagram 4.4). This line is in solid drop-out colour for OCR forms and black for other forms. Boundaries for "Total" answer boxes should be 1 point so they stand out more.

Diagram 4.4
Guide lines for writing in answer boxes

The 0.5 point regular dotted line is used for guide lines on both coloured and black and white forms (see Diagram 4.5).

Diagram 4.4
Eye-guides between text and answer spaces

The 0.5 point irregular dotted line (usually three dots then a space) is used for eye-guide lines on both coloured and black and white forms to link the text with the answer box (see Diagram 4.6).

Diagram 4.6
Width of instruction boxes

In setting out boxes of instructions the principle to be applied is that a form should use as few different alignments as possible and that similar elements are shown consistently throughout the form.'Note' boxes, where two columns of text are used, should extend to the full useable width of the page where possible.

Instruction boxes, including 'Including/Excluding' boxes, and 'Note', 'Definition' and 'Examples' boxes can go the full width of the page or slightly less to incorporate an answer box to the right. When different kinds of instructions are used in the one form, they should all be the same width. When only an Including or an Excluding is contained in a box rather than both, the box should still be the same width as if there were both. The information should be presented in the same way as usual next to a space, so that all includings in the form are aligned with each other and all excludings are also aligned (see Diagram 4.7).

Diagram 4.7
Answer spaces

All answer spaces should be white and bounded by a continuous solid line of the appropriate thickness, see above.

Diagram 4.8

Allow 4 mm width per character in answer spaces (see Diagram 4.9). Sufficient width should be allowed for the number of characters expected in the majority of cases, rather than the largest possible answer.

Diagram 4.9

Allow 8 mm height for answer spaces and 8 mm for each line in answer boxes where there is more than one line (see Diagram 4.10). Note that the line forming the base of the answer box is used as an answer space.

Diagram 4.10
Dollar thousands ($ ,000's)

Where financial items are used, answers should generally be stated in thousands of dollars. Most ABS forms use dollar thousands so this is preferred for consistency, especially when many businesses receive several ABS forms and they can have an impact on the quality of each other. In general, amounts rounded to the nearest whole dollar are more accurate than is actually needed, and is therefore unnecessary respondent burden. Rounding to dollars should only be used when very small values are expected from a significant number of respondents and it is important to know how many respondents are involved in that particular economic activity, regardless of the size of their contribution.

Where space allows, the answer boxes should contain the following captions:
  1. A '$' sign in 12 point plain type, placed at the left hand side of the answer space, and
  2. For forms with background colours, the characters ',000' in 10 point plain type, placed at the right hand side of the answer space, with a 10% screen placed under the ',000'.
  3. For forms without background colours, the characters ',000' in 12 point plain type, placed at the right hand side of the answer space.
    This standard clarifies the correct presentation and placement of the '$,000' caption, when used in an answer space (see Diagram 4.11).

Diagram 4.11
Where there is insufficient space within an answer box, or where a column of answer boxes or a matrix is used, the caption '$ '000' should be placed above the column of answer boxes.

There are four options for the presentation of these captions:
a. For coloured forms, the headings should either use 10 pointplain type, placed in a 10% screened box drawn with 2 point white lines. Alternatively, use 12 point type, placed on the 20% background screen (see Diagram 4.12).

Diagram 4.12
b. For black and white forms, the heading should be in 10 point plain type, placed in a box drawn with a 0.5 pointblack line, or use 12 point type, placed above the answer box, with no box around it (see Diagram 4.13).

Diagram 4.13
Other units of measurement

Whenever relevant, other units of measurement should also be presented next to the answer box. Some examples include: questions that ask for weight of production, construction area added, or size of property reported for should include kg, m2 and ha respectively to the right of the answer box to make it clearer for the respondent what is required.
Answer boxes used in matrices

Where a mix of box sizes are being used in one question in a matrix format, the boxes should be left aligned with each other, especially if following on from another column of boxes to lead the eye across. See for example, Diagram 4.14.

Where different levels of a measurement unit are used, for example kilograms and tonnes, and the boxes for the lower level unit allow for more digits than the higher level, the boxes should be left aligned with enough digit spaces so that the orders of magnitude match and the commas line up e.g. the 1 in 1 tonne will line up with the 1 in 1,000 kg. Where the answer boxes are the same size, due to expectations about the answers respondents will give, matching the order of magnitude is not necessary but commas should still align.

Diagram 4.14
Ballot (or tick) boxes

Use 4mm or 5mm (for OCR forms) square ballot boxes for most closed questions (see Diagram 4.15). Ballot boxes smaller than 4 mm are difficult to use and boxes above this size may lead respondents to write in the box. Place ballot boxes approximately 3 mm to the right of short captions (including 'No/Yes' captions).
When using 'No/Yes' options with sequencing instructions it is generally better to put the answer with the skip first. This saves the respondent from reading the rest of the question when it does not apply to them. In the absence of such instructions it is better to put the least desirable answer first. Few questions in ABS business surveys are particularly sensitive, so the usual socially desirable behaviour respondents may indulge in is acquiescence, or agreeing to everything. This is why standard 'No/Yes' questions without sequencing instructions should place the 'No' first. Whichever convention you adopt, do so consistently throughout the form.

Diagram 4.15

The gap between the 'No/Yes' text and a ballot box should be no more than about 5 mm. The 'No/Yes' options may be left aligned with the question text when the question text is short and there are no note boxes in between. Otherwise position the 'No/Yes' text further to the right so that the reader's eye may travel from the question number at the top left of the question to the ballot boxes and any sequencing instructions at the bottom right.

Longer options, of about four words or more, should be left aligned and the tick boxes should be right aligned with the other answer spaces. In general most of the answer spaces on a form should be aligned, especially those for the same kind of data items, for example all financial boxes should be aligned and all lists of 'tick all that apply' boxes should be aligned but it is not necessary for the financial boxes to align with the tick boxes if that is detrimental to readability. An eye-guide line should be bottom-aligned and connect each caption with the related tick box (see Diagram 4.16).

Diagram 4.16

The consistent use of standard lines and boxes will improve the appearance of a form and contribute to reducing respondent fatigue and errors.

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