Paper forms design standards: Front of form
The front of a survey form facilitates communication between the organisation requesting the data and the respondent. It establishes the context of the survey and provides key instructions for respondents.
Paper forms can be mailed out or hand delivered to respondents. The method of delivery is a factor in determining the necessary front of form elements (e.g. whether an address box is required).
There are elements that are best presented on the front of paper forms.
Important elements for paper forms which are mandatory in ABS surveys should include:
- Title of collection
- Purpose or scope of the collection
- Collection authority (if applicable)
- Due date
- Help available
- Form identifier.
Questions should not be on the front of the form.
Front of form elements for postal paper forms should include:
- Address box
- Respondent identifier
- Area around address box
- 'Please correct' box.
Tailor front of form elements to suit the collection.
Order front of form elements to suit survey field procedures.
Apply the following front of form elements to paper forms as required:
- Completion instructions
- Company or business logos
- Web form offer (if one exists)
- Identification marks
- Reference period
- Office use boxes
- Respondent identifier
- Respondent contact details.
Refer to the front of form illustrations showing a postal business survey form (Diagram 6) and household survey forms (Diagram 7 and Diagram 8).
These standards only apply to the first or 'main' form for surveys that have multiple forms that are given to respondents all at once. Repeat key information on each form if multiple respondents may complete them.
Refer to the Typography chapter for more detailed information on typefaces and fonts for the front of form elements.
Company or business logo
Place the logo in the top left hand corner on the front of form.
Title of collection
Place the title of the collection to the right of the logo.
Purpose or scope of the collection
Help respondents understand the reason for the questions in the form by explaining the purpose of the collection. Explain the topic of the current form if it is part of a multi-topic survey. A good purpose statement encourages respondents to complete the form.
Include the following information:
- what the information collected is actually used for
- who uses the information (e.g. government, private sector )
- where the information will be published (if there is sufficient space).
Avoid summarising the content of the form. Tailor the exact wording of the 'Purpose of collection' statement to suit the survey or topic of the form and the population being targeted.
Collection authority (if applicable)
Some organisations have a ‘legal’ authority to collect information from people or institutions. If this applied to you, help respondents understand that they should complete the form by including a collection authority paragraph.
For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics includes the following key sentences:
- Use standard wording for the first sentence: 'The information asked for is collected under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905.’
- Use standard wording for the second sentence where applicable: 'Your cooperation is sought in completing and returning this form by the due date.'
- Add the compulsion statement where applicable: 'The Act provides me with the power, if needed, to direct you to provide the information sought.’
Tailor paragraphs so that the statement makes sense for each survey or topic.
Place the words 'Australian Statistician' (or name of person who has the authority) after all the general instructions. Left align the words with the general instructions. Use 12 point plain type.
Assure respondents that the information they provide is kept private by including a confidentiality statement.
Provide clear instructions on when respondents need to return their completed survey form.
Tell respondents how to return their completed survey form (e.g. mail back using reply paid envelope or return directly to the interviewer).
Include details on how respondents can contact you if they are having problems completing the form, or if they are having difficulties meeting the due date.
Place the form identifier on the top right corner on the front of form (also see 'Layout chapter').
Do not include questions
Avoid placing questions on the front of form except when the questions are related to the coverage (the population the survey covers) of the survey.
Questions are generally not placed on the front of form because:
- this can create unnecessary clutter
- the front of form is a part of the form that focuses almost entirely on providing information and respondents are likely to miss elements requesting information
- respondents may go straight into answering the questions, but it is preferable for them to have read the general notes and reporting instructions first.
Forms that are delivered to respondents by post must have front of form elements to meet postal requirements.
Position a reference number, or a unique identifier, which identifies the unit selected on the top right-hand side of the label (Diagram 1).
Place the note indicating a duplicate form inside the address box when applicable.
Use the following wording for duplicate forms: 'Duplicate. Please keep this copy for your records'.
Respondent contact details
Encourage respondents to correct any errors.
Place an instruction on all forms except those which ask the respondent specifically about name and address details elsewhere. For example, on ABS business survey forms (Diagram 2) an instruction 'Please correct any errors' is placed near the contact details and Australian Business Number fields. This encourages respondents to check the information and write in corrections if necessary.
Tailor form elements to suit the collection
Collection authority (if applicable)
Where applicable, reference to the collection authority will need to be modified under the following circumstances (i.e. 'Your cooperation is sought in completing and returning this form by the due date.''):
- When respondents hand their completed form to an interviewer during the survey interview: 'Your cooperation is sought in completing and returning this form to the ABS Interviewer in the envelope provided.’
- For diaries when a range of dates are specified (e.g. This diary starts on [date] and finishes on [date] inclusive): 'Your cooperation is sought in completing the diary on the dates specified above and returning the diary to the interviewer.'
Omit the compulsion sentence from the Collection Authority statement (i.e. ‘The Act provides me with the power, if needed, to direct you to provide the information sought’) when:
- the target population includes government organisations at the Commonwealth, State or Local level
- the survey is to be undertaken on a voluntary basis (e.g. pilot tests and dress rehearsals)
- a self-administered paper form is part of a wider collection, rather than the primary survey instrument. The inclusion of the compulsion statement on the front of form is discretionary provided that it appears in other survey materials (e.g. approach letter and brochure) that are shown to respondents.
A statement on confidentiality should be included to assure respondents their completed form and personal information will be treated securely and not publicly released in a way that would allow them to be identified.
Specify a particular due date rather than a time period where possible because respondents may forget when the form was received. In the case of staggered despatches respondents may also return the form before the end of the reference period.
Specify a time period for when respondents should submit their completed form when the delivery of many forms may be delayed or a due date cannot be printed, overprinted or handwritten.
When using paper forms that are mailed out:
- Use this standard wording to specify the due date: 'Please complete this form and return it in the reply-paid envelope to ‘name of your organisation’ by xx Month 20xx.'
- Use this standard wording to specify a time period in addition to the due date: 'Please complete this form and return it in the reply paid envelope to ‘name of your organisation’ by xx Month 20xx or within xx days of receipt.'
- Use 14-point bold type for the due date.
- Use the normal background shading even when the due date is overprinted on the form after the form has been printed.
For survey forms that interviewers hand out, use the options outlined below that suit the field procedures of a particular collection:
- Provide a blank field for interviewers to manually fill in a due date when it is not possible to print or overprint the due date because of field procedures (e.g. forms handed to respondents during an interview).
- Let respondents know they should return their form to the interviewer by using the following standard wording: 'Please complete this form and hand back to your interviewer at the time of your survey interview.'
- Include a due date (i.e. the day of the week and the date) if respondents also have the choice of returning their form by mail in the following standard wording: 'Alternatively, return it in the reply paid envelope to ‘name of your organisation’ [by ....................(.... /..../....) (date)].'
- Specify both a due date (i.e. day of the week and date) and a time (e.g. 2:30 am / pm) when the interviewer will return at a later stage to collect the form (e.g. time use diary) using the following standard wording: 'An interviewer will return on ....................(.... /..../....) (date) at ....: .... am/pm(time) to collect the Diary.'
- Consider the option of providing some space for the interviewers to fill in their names. Respondents can refer to their interviewer's name if they need to call the telephone number given.
Present the help available information using one of the two options:
- Use the standard wording, 'If you have problems in completing this form, or feel that you may have difficulties meeting the due date, please contact ‘name of your organisation’ by:
(xx) xxxx-xxxx Postal Address'
- Alternatively, place the contact details following the standard wording in a box located to the right-hand side of the page, so that it is side-by-side with the standard wording instead of below it. The heading 'Help available' should be included in the box (Diagram 3). Use this option when there are space restrictions.
Format telephone numbers with spaces and brackets in the way that they are commonly used as shown 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
Include the label 'Freecall (excluding mobile phones)' after 1800 numbers.
For some collections, respondents are required to call their local Regional Office to seek help (Diagram 4).
Confirm the phone numbers listed prior to finalising the form.
For diaries, interviewers can manually write in the telephone number respondents use to get help when vertical space is limited on the front of form. Use the following standard wording and allow enough blank space for the interview's area code and telephone number: 'If you have any problems with filling in this diary, please contact the office on () ................ for assistance.'.
Avoid including email addresses as part of contact information or details because it may encourage respondents to submit data insecurely.
Very large collections such as the Population Census may provide instructions asking respondents to visit the website first if they require help.
Contact details for business forms
Ask respondents to provide the details of a contact person from their organisation. Should you have any queries about the form, only the person whose details are provided will be contacted to ensure confidentiality.
Place the request for contact details at the bottom of the front of form.
Use the standard wording for 'Contact Details': 'Person we should contact if any queries arise regarding this form’ followed by boxes containing these items:
- Mobile number
- Telephone number
Provide white answer spaces for respondents to write their contact details.
Only include a separate box for 'Position or Title' between 'Name' and 'Signature' if testing and processing of the form has shown this to be essential.
Provide enough answer space if a 'Position or Title' field is added. The information requested refers to the respondent's position or title within the business (e.g. Senior Accountant). It does not refer to general titles (e.g. 'Mr' or 'Mrs').
Include a field for 'Mobile 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).
Place the 'Mobile number' field between 'Telephone number' and 'Email’ if it is used.
Use a single text box for the 'Email ' field. Ensure that the field is large enough to fit at least 40 characters to accommodate a range of email addresses.
Order form elements to suit survey field procedures
The ordering and location of the front of form elements can differ across household collections as follows:
- Place front of form elements in a similar order as that of business survey forms (i.e. Purpose of Collection, Collection Authority, Confidentiality, Due Date, Help Available) when there are no blank fields requiring interviewers to handwrite information for respondents
- Place blank fields where interviewers handwrite information for respondents (e.g. respondent name, due date, help available) near the top of the page. Locate printed information (e.g. purpose of collection, collection of authority, confidentiality) after the handwritten information.
Use white answer spaces for blank fields where interviewers fill in information for respondents and for their own use only (e.g. Interviewer use only).
Place any fields containing information that the respondent does not need to read (e.g. office use boxes) at the bottom of the page.
Apply discretionary form elements as required
Completion instructions may be placed on the front of form under some circumstances. For example, completion instructions can be placed on the front of form when space is available there but limited in the remainder of the form.
Include an instruction to provide careful estimates if exact figures are not available on the front of form, if necessary. However, it is usually best placed in other parts of the form.
Other approved logos may appear on the front of form in addition to your organisation’s logo (e.g. if there is an additional survey specific logo or if your organisation is co-branded with another agency for that survey).
Web form offer
Include information about accessing the web form, when there is a web mode offered at the same time as the paper form.
Web form access information can include:
- the web address (or URL)
- instructions on how to navigate to the web
- the web form number
- a password or additional code.
Slogans or statements to promote the use of the web from can also be included (e.g. 'Fast, secure and easy with online help available').
Barcodes and various other marks that aid mark-in and page recognition may be placed on the front of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) forms.
Determine the formatting and location of these marks with stakeholders on a case-by-case basis.
Information about the reference period can appear on the front of form. This tells respondents the time period that they are required to report for.
Present the reference period in a way that makes sense for the collection.
For some business survey forms, information about the reference period will appear in the title of some business survey forms. For other business survey forms, there may be separate 'Reference period' information using wording such as, ‘The reference period for this form is the last pay period ending on or before [date]'.
For household survey forms, the reference can be pre-printed or manually filled in by interviewers (Diagram 8).
Coverage of business forms
Clarify the coverage of the form if respondents might be confused about which business or parts of the business the form relates to, by using one or more of the following options:
- Include additional information about coverage and place it between the Collection Authority and Confidentiality paragraphs.
- Place information about the geographic location covered by the form (e.g. Australia or a particular state) between the address box and the Purpose of Collection paragraph.
- Use a small instruction with an arrow pointing to the address box similar to the ‘Please correct' box (e.g. '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.
Office use boxes for household forms
Place office use boxes at the bottom of the front of form within an instruction box.
Use the heading 'Interviewer use only'.
Use drop-out colour for the text and lines outlining the boxes to ensure that they are easily distinguished from information relevant to respondents (Diagram 5).
Respondent identifier for household forms
Include a respondent identifier on the front of form when multiple individuals within a household each receive a separate form. For example, interviewers will fill in the respondent's name in the 'Name' field.
A respondent identifier helps respondents to distinguish between forms within their household and assists in identifying data for processing.
Respondent contact details for household forms
Ask respondents for their contact details when information is required on a household level.
Explain why the information is collected using the following standard wording that is placed before the respondent contact details fields: 'Person we should contact if any queries arise regarding this form'.