Cognitive Daily

We’ve all had the experience of a completely infuriating electronic form. My “favorite” example is a calendar application I once had that wouldn’t let me delete numbers in certain places: there had to be something in the box, and you couldn’t even delete a number temporarily to replace it with a new one. The only way to change a number was to carefully select the whole number with the mouse, then type the new number in. This is a very annoying step when you’re trying to schedule an appointment with someone over the phone.

But I’m wondering if some of us are better than others at filling in electronic forms. Do some people just have a knack for getting it right? What makes them better? Typing speed? Age? Or does the design of the form itself make a bigger difference?

To find out, I’ve created two separate quizzes. Each of them funnels you to the same response form to give a little extra information about yourself.

Fill out the first page as quickly as possible, then fill out the second page at a more relaxed pace, taking time to make sure you’ve gotten everything right. We’ll need to divide respondents into two groups for this one, so make sure you click on the correct link below:

If you were born in January through June, click here
If you were born in July through December, click here

(Please don’t try to take both quizzes–it will make it harder for us to analyze the data)

As usual, the survey is brief, with less than 20 questions. It should take only a few minutes to complete. You have until Thursday, September 17 to complete your response. There is no limit on the number of respondents. Don’t forget to come back next week for the results!

Do you have any favorite stories of annoying forms? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. #1 joseph dipilato
    September 11, 2009

    Form speed performance can be greatly enhanced through the utilization of the [tab] and [space] keys.
    Use [tab] to advance focus to the next avaliable area. Use [space] to select buttons etc.

  2. #2 Chris
    September 11, 2009

    I design web forms for a living, so I’m usually pretty fast filling them out, mostly because I “think like a programmer”. It also makes me extremely frustrated at forms that defy logic and accepted practices.

  3. #3 Dan Clark
    September 11, 2009

    Web forms can be extremely infuriating, especially ones where the “error” page for an incorrectly-completed form lists only the first error even if there are many. Iterative correction of these forms is tedious, and I usually tire of it after the third try.

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    September 11, 2009

    Pet peeve on Web forms: Putting a pull-down menu where typing text in a box would be much faster. The most common instance is specifying state/province in an address, which takes two characters for US and Canadian addresses. It’s much faster for most people who aren’t from Alberta, Alaska, or Alabama to type in those two letters than to scroll to somewhere in the middle of the list to find the state or province name. I encountered at least one of those on the speed test: the correct answer was near the bottom of a lengthy pull-down menu.

    The counterargument is that some people will get it wrong, e.g., by typing AK (which is the abbreviation for Alaska) for Arkansas (the correct abbreviation is AR). Simple validation will catch most of these: given the state or province, the zip code or post code will fall into a particular known range (there are a handful of exceptions, among them the IRS office in Andover, MA), so it’s straightforward to flag typos or errors in the state abbreviation (e.g., if you really are in Alaska your zip code will start with a 9, not a 7).

  5. #5 Will
    September 11, 2009

    @Eric/4: On most forms, you can still type in the pull-down menu, and it’ll auto-scroll to the first match for you. For an answer like “United States” I usually type something like (repeat down arrow until it shows up).

  6. #6 Ian Tindale
    September 11, 2009

    Why are many of the questions America-centric? I don’t know anything about that country, have never been there, will never go there and frankly I hate it. This not only threw my flow but also presented me with questions that I couldn’t answer at all and couldn’t go forward until I had filled out basically any answers at all, with no way of knowing if they were the right ones.

  7. #7 Dave Munger
    September 11, 2009

    Ian,

    Sorry you felt that way about the “America-centric” questions. In fact, 3 of the 8 questions were about the US. In the US there are many forms where we have to fill out the state from a long list, and about 80 percent of our readers are from the US so I wanted one question about a state, but I tried to make it a fairly obvious one. Perhaps it’s not so obvious to non-Americans.

  8. #8 ToSeek
    September 11, 2009

    I don’t like the way the time choices are given, e.g.:

    A. 1-2 hours
    B. 3-4 hours
    C. 5-6 hours

    What if the correct answer is 2.5 hours?

  9. #9 Christina Pikas
    September 11, 2009

    For long drop downs, I type the first letter of what I want (say Maryland > M) if it’s not the first M choice, I keep hitting M until I get to the right one.

  10. #10 Susannah
    September 11, 2009

    I’m with Eric (#4) in my aversion to the pull-down lists. I have tried typing in the name when my answer will be down at the bottom; on this poll, it gave me the first state starting with the first two letters, and stuck there. It was the wrong answer, so I had to start again, with the pull-down. I could have typed the answer several times before I finally got the correct answer.

    I just saw Christina’s solution (#9). I’ll try that next time.

  11. #11 Richard
    September 12, 2009

    Are you just seeing if there are mistakes in the typed version? Ie, challenging the notion that there are a lot of mistakes eliminated by using dropdowns?

  12. #12 Michael Blend
    September 12, 2009

    Chris has raised an excellent point..

  13. #13 Susan A
    September 12, 2009

    I hate the state thing- too many won’t let you type anything it or if you type the second letter, then uses it first, I’m from New Jersey, too many N states.
    I’ve also seen a few the have you add the password again, but flashes and stops you because you can enter the confirmation, it’s saying the passwords don’t match.
    I also hate when the ask for SS number or phone number and specify that only want digit. I’m so used to typing in the hyphens, I get pissed if I then told it’s invalid. Just let me know first.
    I guess I have a lot of rants about forms.

  14. #14 Stephen Downes
    September 12, 2009

    Of course the survey probably had nothing to do with how fast you fill out forms — I have come to really appreciate the misdirection found in the instructions for casual Fridays — but I will say I had to slow down and think about the U.S.-centric questions, because I don’t know the answers off-hand.

  15. #15 Dave Munger
    September 12, 2009

    Stephen —

    There’s not much deception in this one. The main thing is I didn’t want respondents to realize we’re comparing speed/accuracy on drop-downs versus typing. I’m also curious to see if things like how well-fed and caffeinated you are affect speed.

  16. #16 dzdt
    September 12, 2009

    I would bet results strongly correlate with which web browser users use. Hypothesis: users who have explicitly chosen a web browser other than the default (so Firefox and Opera users) are probably more savvy about useful tricks like the type the first letter to jump to the right section of the dropdown (as mentioned in #9) and other keyboard navigation tricks which save a huge amount of time and trouble with these forms. So I bet if you compare Firefox vs. Internet Explorer, Firefox users are faster and more accurate.

  17. #17 LW
    September 12, 2009

    I use Firefox. The comments above suggest that there were dropdowns in the form but not for me.

  18. #18 Size
    September 12, 2009

    The dropdowns are doubly annoying for me, since for some reason (and I don’t know if it’s just me or if it works this way for everyone), since I’m using FireFox on a Mac, it never tabs to the dropdown.

    On Windows, I just tab through the form and use the “typing in the dropdown” method described above. Can’t figure out why this isn’t possible on my iBook, and it’s annoying.

    I didn’t mind the America questions. I live in the US, and although it is not without its faults, I still like it quite a bit.

  19. #19 Kapitano
    September 13, 2009

    Some forms announce right at the end that you need to create a special “security word” – which you will have to give at any later date if you wish to access or change your info.

    So you’ve got to instantly come up with a password that (a) no one else can guess and (b) you’ll remember.

    After a few of these forms, I decided to always use “Garkbit” – the name of the waiter at The Resteraunt at the End of the Universe.

    With this bit of information, you too can now learn that one of the last three academic courses I enrolled on, I got my age wrong. No one ever checked up on it.

  20. #20 Jordi
    September 13, 2009

    I also hate US-centric forms. In this survey I didn’t mind, because it was basically just trivia, but I hate when forms ask me for the state I live in (because I don’t know the text they are going to use for non-applicable/non-US/etc., so I have to manually search it in the list). Also, a lot of forms ask for a zipcode and a phone number. These are especially annoying when they feature some kind of assinine validation that won’t allow me to type in my actual (Dutch) zipcode and phone number and makes me guess what the correct format for the US is and hope that the value I choose is valid.

    Why do a lot of these forms require this information anyway? If I’m just going to use your free virus scanner, you don’t need to know where I live and you don’t need to know my phone number.

    I don’t really understand people’s aversion to selection boxes though. You can just start typing the right answer (as you would if there was just a text area) and stop once it shows up.

  21. #21 Jake
    September 13, 2009

    For the dropdowns in this survey and in most others, once you select the dropdown menu (by tabbing to it or clicking it), you can type more than just the first letter to find the right match. Some commenters above don’t seem to realize this. e.g. for Maryland, I start typing “maryland” and a match is usually found after “mar”. For the U.S., I type “united s”, which is much faster than scrolling through the form.

    (If you wait for a couple seconds after typing on the dropdown, it is reset, and you can start matching from the beginning – e.g. you can type “mar”, pause, and then “i” to match Idaho.)

    This should work for most browsers. I know it works for Firefox, Chrome, and probably newer versions of IE.

  22. #22 Ced
    September 14, 2009

    Wow, please don’t use America-centric questions, you have lots of international readers! I don’t know in which state Dallas is and I don’t care too much!

  23. #23 Mary H.
    September 14, 2009

    In all fairness, I currenntly have one hand in a cast, so my typing speed is greatly impaired.

    My favorite are job application forms (or other long forms) that don’t allow you to save in the middle, time you out after half an hour, yet take longer than half an hour to fill out.

    Mary

  24. #24 Kevin H
    September 14, 2009

    You forgot about (or never knew about) the wonders of the ‘tab’ key. It was designed to make things like filling out forms much easier. You can tab between text boxes in order, and usually if you tab into a text box with something already in it, it selects the whole contents of the box. Probably would have helped with the subject scheduling thing. You can also tab to buttons, then hit enter to activate them, just like I’m about to do to post this…

  25. #25 Chris Atherton
    September 15, 2009

    I used a combination of trackpad and keyboard: as pointed out above, pressing Tab moves you on to the next option, and in long pull-down menus I hold down the “down” cursor key until I get to the right option. But sometimes I use the trackpad, just to mix it up.

  26. #26 Christopher Ak.
    September 15, 2009

    As is plainly clear from the previous posts, one of the strongest indicators of how fast you fill out a form is how long you’ve been doing it. Tricks like pressing tab or clicking on the menu and then typing the first few letters only come with practice. The second questionaire did not look into this factor, which I expect would be the most important one.

    I expect that another strong predictor would be how quickly you understand the question and can respond to it. This involves several factors, so you couldn’t possibly establish a metric for that with just a couple of questions.

    Still, splitting the groups according by month of birth should provide the correlations to the other factors (unless you believe in astrology, that is ;-)

  27. #27 felixmab
    September 15, 2009

    atheists caused 911 – treat them accordingly

    you have forfeit your life

    http://www.sotoman.info/freethinking/index.php?topic=1198.0

  28. #28 Michzh
    September 15, 2009

    I use Firefox. The comments above suggest that there were dropdowns in the form but not for me.

  29. #29 Ann
    September 17, 2009

    Actually, in spite of the quibbles that I and others had about these quizzes, neither of them was terrible.

    What I really hate are forms where the question is ambiguous, and I have to interpret what they are asking for. That problem did occur slightly in the question about how many hours since your last meal — it took me a few extra seconds to try to figure out which range 4-1/2 hours fell into.

    So I think that there are really two aspects — one is specifically web related (such as freeform vs droplists) and the other is wording and content. The latter is annoying enough in a paper form, but is compounded in an electronic form that doesn’t allow you to skip it.

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