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How to write good questions for forms

A form is a page that asks users for information to give them a service. This could be a web page or a document.

This guidance is for people working on forms, questionnaires and transactional services.

Understand the problem before you write the question

Writing good questions starts with a discovery phase.

You need to understand your users and the problem you are trying to solve before you can start on your questions.

Ask yourself:

  • what is the purpose and context of the form
  • how you collect and store information from users now
  • what is the wider user journey and the service (and process) around the form
  • are there any constraints you may face eg legislation or financial
  • what technology options are available to you
  • how you will measure success

Read more about the discovery phase on the GOV.UK how the discovery phase works.

Make sure you need each question

Make a list of all the information you need from your users for you to deliver the service.

Work out what information TPR already has and where you have information gaps. Ask the questions that let you fill in the gaps, but only include a question when you know:

  • you need the information to deliver the service
  • why you need it
  • who will use the information and how
  • which users need to give you the information
  • how you will check that the information is accurate and what validation rules will be needed
  • what you will do if the users give you the wrong answer or no answer
  • how to keep the information up to date and secure

Decide if each question is essential

If the user cannot get the service unless they give this information, it is essential.

These are sometimes called ‘required’ or ‘mandatory’ questions.

Use information TPR already has or can access

If you already have some data about a user, you may only need them to confirm that it is correct.

Use filter questions to route users

Filter questions ask a short question first with a yes or no answer.

Filter questions help users move quickly through the form by routing them to the questions that apply to them.

When testing your form, check how users react to the Yes/No questions. You may need to be clearer about what ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ means or add a third option of ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘I don’t know’.

Get the questions into order

Think about how the questions flow and group them so they make sense to the user:

  • start with essential, common and easy questions
  • group similar topics

Decide whether to use questions or statements

Questions work well for radio buttons, checkboxes and short questions.

Action statements work well if you want people to enter information. Be specific about what you want them to do.

Write the supporting content for the form

As well as questions, your form may need:

  • an introduction to explain your form, set expectations and stop the wrong people filling in the form
  • help or guidance with filling a question where they need it – tooltips are not recommended as they are hard for users to see and are not accessible
  • error messages to help the user fix the problem or if your service fails
  • a confirmation or thank you page to reassure users they have completed the form and help them understand what to do next

Test your form with real users

Always test your forms so you can try and understand things like:

  • how people’s literacy or digital skills affect their ability to fill in the form
  • where they misinterpret a question, for example, where they put the wrong information or not enough information
  • whether you have given them enough information for them to complete the form eg whether they need to have documents or key information so that they can continue
  • where they get frustrated or drop out and why

Look at your content acrosss channels

Think beyond the form. For the user it is likely to be a cross-channel experience.

Remember to make your online and offline content consistent including:

  • paper or downloadable forms
  • introductory emails or letters
  • confirmation emails or text messages
  • call centre scripts
  • follow up emails and letters