1530.0 - ABS Forms Design Standards Manual, 2010  
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Contents >> Telephone and Face to Face Interviews >> Summary for use by CAI developers

Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) Interface Design Standards: Summary for Use by CAI Developers

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 document provides a summary of the Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) interface design standards, and is intended to be used as a reference guide by CAI developers. Readers of this summary are referred to relevant paragraphs of the main standards for additional information and explanation of the standards.

In this document, the term "CAI" covers both Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) and Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) instruments.

The graphics used in these standards are illustrative only and do not necessarily reflect the ABS standard question wording. The graphics are designed to be viewed on screen, and may not display properly when printed.

For consistency and convenience, these standards will refer to the user of the interface as "the interviewer" even though when using the CAI interface for IFU or editing purposes, an actual interview may not take place.
It is strongly recommended that usability testing is conducted to evaluate the following ABS CAI instruments:
  • all new business survey CAI instruments.
  • household survey CAI instruments that differ substantially from the standard household survey CAI instruments.
Typography and text formatting

All the text in the instrument should be left justified. The standard font is Arial. The standard text sizes and styles are as follows:
  • Main question text which is always read out - bold, 14 point black.
  • Other question text which may be read out - plain, 12 point black (for business survey CATIs); text in brackets (for household surveys CAPIs).
  • Completion instructions to the interviewer - bold, 12 point blue and indented (about 10mm).
  • Question numbers, which are not read out unless directing respondents to a paper form - plain, 12 point black.
  • Question specific notes, on screen plain 12 point black, and in pop-up bold 12 point black.
  • Labels for multiple choice answer options in information pane:
  • Response lists where the interviewer is to read out the options to the respondent - bold, 12 point blue for "Don't know" and "None of the above" options; bold, 12 point black for other options. See "Running prompt questions" section of CAI Standards for more information on this type of question.
  • Response lists where the interviewer is not to read out the options to the respondent - plain, 12 point black for response options such as "Yes" and "No"; plain, 12 point blue for "Don't know" and "None of the above".
  • Labels for response fields in form pane - plain, 11 point black when unselected, dark blue when selected.
  • Heading text for response fields in form pane - plain, 11 point dark magenta.
  • Entered responses show up as - plain, 11 point black.
  • Words that require emphasis are to be underlined (not in italics or bold).
Other formatting standards include:
  • Numerical fields should be formatted so that commas will automatically separate the digits for numbers at and over 1,000.

Diagram 1. Automatic commas in numeric fields

  • Date fields should be automatically separated by slashes or dots, and formatted consistently throughout the instrument. Date fields should accept commonly-used formats (e.g. d/m/yyyy, dd.mm.yy). When "enter" is pressed after the date has been typed in, the field should display the date in the standard format that has been chosen for the instrument.

Diagram 2. Automatic slashes in date fields

  • When a reference period date is included in the script, the date should be automatically generated for all relevant questions. The date should appear in full (e.g. 30 June 2008, not 30/6/08 ) (see Diagram 3).

Diagram 3. Display of automatically generated date in script

  • The "time taken" question for business surveys should be split into two fields (hours and minutes).

Diagram 4. Layout of Time Taken fields

  • In questions asking for the duration of an event, the standard approach is to channel respondents to a question which asks for the duration in the appropriate time period. For example:

    Q1. How long have you worked for your current employer?

    1. Less than 1 year ---> Q2
    2. One year or more ---> Q3

    Q2. Record full weeks
Q3. Record full years
  • Mixed case should be used where possible - words in full capitals should be avoided.


Horizontal and vertical layouts

Default horizontal layout

This is the default Blaise layout and is the standard format used for household survey CAI instruments. A horizontal line separates the Information Pane and the Form Pane (see Diagram 5). One question appears on the screen at a time in the information pane. This layout is suitable for surveys which have many yes/no answers, multiple choice pick-lists, and automatic sequencing.

Diagram 5. Horizontal screen layout

Alternative horizontal layout

For horizontal layouts that require historical data to be displayed in columns, the alternative horizontal layout is suitable. The form pane (rather than the information pane) contains the answer choices (see Diagram 6).

Diagram 6: Alternative horizontal layout for CATIs displaying historical data

Vertical layout

In this layout, the questions are on the left of the screen and the answer fields are on the right, allowing more than one question to appear on the screen at a time (see Diagram 7). The vertical layout is not suitable for forms that have a large amount of sequencing as skipped questions cannot be 'hidden'. The questions should be visible without scrolling.

Diagram 7. Vertical screen layout

The screen layout should be as simple and uncluttered as possible. There should be top and left margins of about 5mm in the information pane and form pane.

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Screen colours

For CATIs using the horizontal layout, the standard is pale yellow for the information pane background and light grey for the field pane. For the vertical layout, the current standard is for all parts of the screen to be light grey.

Questions and responses

If there is a self-administered form which the respondent is referring to, there should be question numbers in the CAI instrument which match the question numbers used in the paper form. If the CAI instrument requires additional questions that are not on the paper form, the extra questions should be given an alphanumeric identifier (e.g. two additional questions between questions 5 and 6 would be labelled 5a and 5b).
Below the instructions should be an indicator relating to other notes or help which may be available. The lines of question text should be about 60 characters wide, leaving some blank space to the right. There may also be completion instructions for the interviewer. All of this information needs to fit on one screen. The interviewer should never have to scroll the information pane to see everything. When the whole question will not fit it should be split somehow or use a pop-up.
Form pane fields should have a short label which is meaningful enough to recognise the question it belongs to.

Diagram 8. Labels for response fields in form pane

For the horizontal layout, the response fields should be laid out in columns, with appropriate headings (referring to Part titles etc.) when necessary. Field lists which go to two columns need to be balanced so that there is roughly the same number of fields in each column. Response fields for the vertical layout appear as a single list in the column adjacent to the question. It is important that the field labels are kept brief, so that interviewers don't mistake the field text for the actual question.
The field space should be to the right of the field label. Where text responses are entered, the field space should extend across the screen as far as generally required. Small scrolling fields should not be used and pop-up text boxes should only be used where a great deal of text is possible (e.g. "comments" question in business survey CATIs).

Screens containing no questions

Screens which do not include a question (e.g. "Select 3 to continue") should be avoided as much as possible. If it must be used, the screen should be designed to be consistent with the other screens, so that the instructions appear in roughly the same location on each screen.

Historical data

Historical data can be displayed using both the horizontal and vertical layouts, in column format in the form pane. Each column should have a descriptive heading so that it is clear which reference period it refers to (e.g. Diagram 9).

Diagram 9: Columns displaying historical data

When only a single response from the previous reporting period is required to be displayed, an option is to have it appear as text in the information pane (e.g. Diagram 10).

Diagram 10: Alternative display of historical data

Historical data is generally not able to be amended by the interviewer.

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Parallel blocks

The CAI instrument interface is made up of "parallel blocks" represented by worksheet-like tabs (e.g. Diagram 11). The order of the parallel blocks should be kept consistent across surveys, so that interviewers know where to find them (e.g. the "Exit form" block used in business survey CATIs should appear last).

Diagram 11. Tabs of parallel blocks

Question Structure
(See CAI Interface Design Standards for information on introductions, question wording, explanatory notes and scales/measurement units).
Running prompt questions

For running prompt questions, the following instructions should appear in blue text below the question and before the response options:
  • Single response questions: "Read out each category until a 'yes' response is given".
  • Multiple response questions: "Read out categories, pause after each one for a 'yes' or 'no' response".

Response options

For 'Yes/No' response options, 'Yes' should have a code of 1, and 'No' should have a code of 5. If there are more than 9 response options in a multiple-choice field, the first option should start with code 10.

Open-ended questions

For CATIs based on ABS business surveys, it is mandatory to ask the respondent if they have any comments at the end of the survey. The following wording is recommended:
"Do you have any comments on this survey or the interview?"
A pop-up should be used for the answer box for this comments question. Interviewers need to be able to skip past this box easily if they don't have anything to enter.
Another area where large text boxes may be required for ABS surveys is for "Other" questions, where the respondent is required to specify any activity which has not yet been covered. In a Blaise CATI this needs to be presented as "Do you have any other..." with a checklist or yes/no filter followed by a separate text option, because there can't be a choice between an open text answer vs a "no" selection for a single field. Generally the CATI also needs to allow for and record when respondents say yes, they have an "other" but refuse to specify what it is.

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Time taken

Collecting "Time taken" is mandatory for business survey CATIs. The recommended wording is in Diagram 12. There should be two separate fields (Hours and Minutes) for the interviewer to enter Time taken.

Diagram 12: Time taken question

Help information and the F9 function

General FAQ-type information and survey specific information can be included in the instrument by presenting it in a separate parallel block, or from a drop-down menu. Whichever is chosen, the presentation should be consistent.
Question specific information and interviewer instructions should be presented under the corresponding question. Any information that will not fit should be included in a pop-up, accessed by using the F9 command. See paragraph 75 of the main standards for the types of information that can be included in F9. Information that already appears on the main screen should not be repeated in F9.

Interviewers are alerted to the presence of F9 information via one of the following instructions, that appears below the question:
  • "Press F9 to display further information"
  • "Press F9 to display prompt card details"
  • "Press F9 to display Months to Weeks conversion table, if necessary".

The pop-up box should appear in the blank space to the right of the question. There should be a small top and left margin within the pop-up, and there should be sufficient text spacing to maintain the readability of the text. See paragraph 87 of the main standards for the appropriate layout of pop-up screens that require scrolling.



When testing the sequencing, it is important to ensure that if the interviewer is required to go backwards through the interview after having gone down the wrong sequencing path (e.g. during SFMP), any information already entered which is relevant to both paths will transfer to/remain in the new path.


Navigation should be possible using either or both of keyboard and mouse. The current standards are that:
  • The interviewer can't go forward through the form within a parallel block unless valid data is entered in every applicable field. While a menu option allowing the interviewer to skip a field is available, it is recommended that an appropriate answer field (e.g. "Don't know") is used instead.
  • Pressing Enter after completing each field takes the interviewer to the next field. For comments fields where it is valid to have no response, Enter should take the interviewer to the next field anyway. Typing anything but Enter opens the pop-up window and while in the window, Enter starts a new line of text and the interviewer should click on "save" to close. Navigating back to a comments field allows the interviewer to type over the previous answer. Double-clicking or pressing "insert" allows the interviewer to append extra information.
  • The bar at the very bottom of the screen should provide a count of what screen out of the total the interviewer is up to.

Diagram 13. Progress indicator

(See CAI Interface Design Standards for information on the "Remark" function, which can be used by interviewers to make comments specific to a particular question).Edits

The standard for newly developed CAI instruments is minimal edits (e.g. simple range and data type restrictions). The edit message should be meaningful and usually allow the interviewer to continue without correcting their entry (i.e. a "soft" rather than "hard" edit). However, hard edits may be appropriate in some circumstances to ensure the data provided is in the correct format (e.g. ABNs must have eleven digits).

Diagram 14. Internal consistency edit message

Fill capability

When the CAI script refers back to previously learned information (e.g. the contact's name), this information should be filled automatically into the script, and should be in the same font, size and style as the text around it.

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