Forgiving Text Entry
Context: The user should enter information, as on a
Form or in a Composed
Command, that may be formatted in any one of several ways.
Phone number, possibly with country code and/or area code, possibly without
URL text field on most browsers
Problem: How does the artifact indicate what kind
of information should be supplied?
Solution: Allow the user to enter text in any recognizable
format for that context. Be forgiving of formatting idiosyncracies,
formatting mistakes, or recognizable "typos." Place the burden of
normalizing the input (i.e. making it fit one format, for use or storage)
onto the recipient of the information, whether that be a human or a computer.
Physical and cultural constraints on the allowable input prevent unnecessary
interpretation errors from being made.
Too much constraint can be annoying to the user.
The user doesn't need the cognitive burden of figuring out what specific
format is acceptable.
Users are diverse, and will likely have different cultural or personal
preferences for formatting various pieces of information (especially things
like names, dates, and times).
Both computers and humans -- depending on who's interpreting the entered
information -- are good at figuring out what a given text entry is intended
to be, if it even vaguely resembles some accepted format.
In theory, it's difficult to make a computer do this correctly, but
in practice it often turns out to be not so bad. To illustrate, consider
the fact that most Web browsers these days allow URLs to be entered in
several different ways. An URL such as "http://www.foo.com" can be
entered that way, or as "www.foo.com", or even just "foo". There
is enough context for the browser to figure out what the full URL ought
to be; there's no point in making the user type it all in!
Resulting Context: Good
Defaults may let the user look at the default value, judge it to be
OK, and move on without even bothering to set the value; it may also help
suggest what kind of input is allowed.
Comments to: email@example.com
Last modified May 17, 1999
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell. All rights reserved.