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Technique G184:Providing text instructions at the beginning of a form or set of fields that describes the necessary input


All technologies.

This technique relates to:


The objective of this technique is to help the user avoid input errors by informing them ahead of time about restrictions on the format of data that they must enter. Instructions on such restrictions are provided at the top of forms. This technique works best for forms that have a small number of fields or those where many form fields require data in the same format. In these cases, it is more efficient to describe the format once in instructions at the top of the form rather than repeating the same information for each field that has the same restricted format requirement.


Example 1

A business networking site allows users to post descriptions of jobs they have held. The form to gather the information includes fields for the company name, job title, from and to dates, and job description. At the top of the form are the following instructions:

  • Enter requested information about the position you wish to add to your profile. Dates should be entered in mm/dd/yyyy format."

Example 2

A corporate directory allows users to customize information such as telephone number and job responsibilities by editing their profile. At the top of the form are the following instructions:

  • You can modify the information in any field. When you select Finish, your changes will be saved and you will have the opportunity to publish your profile. Should you decide that you don't want to keep your changes, select the Cancel button.
  • You cannot edit the information that is displayed as system text in your profile (i.e., not contained in a field). This information has been obtained from an corporate human resources information. If you find something is incorrect or out of date that you cannot edit, select the help icon next to the information to find out how to correct it.
  • Phone numbers may contain numbers and dashes (-) only.
  • Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*) and must be filled in to complete the form.



  1. Identify form controls that will only accept user input data in a given format.
  2. Determine if instructions are provided at the top of the form about the expected format of each of the form controls identified in 1.

Expected Results

  • Check #2 is true.
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