Structured Text Entry
Context: The user should enter information, as on a
Form, but that information must be in a very specific
format; Forgiving Text Entry is
not a viable option.
Someone's name, specifically as last, first, middle initial
Phone number with country code and/or area code
Digit fields on a bank deposit form
Problem: How does the artifact indicate what kind
of information should be supplied?
Solution: Rather than letting a user enter information
into a blank and featureless text field, put structure into that text field.
Divide it into multiple fields with different relative sizes, for instance,
or superimpose a faint visual design on it (like dividers or decimal points).
Be careful not to constrict the input so much that it makes things too
complicated, or so that it no longer fits the possible input values that
users may need to give it! Do user testing as needed to judge whether
or not it's too annoying.
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.
If the user sees exactly what is expected of them, they don't have to be
uncertain about what they're entering into the text field.
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. Also, if the Structured Text
Entry follows a culturally familiar pattern -- such as a column of numbers
lined up by their decimal point, with currency signs nearby -- the user
might get enough contextual clues from it to know what has to be provided,
with little or no explanatory comments.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified May 17, 1999
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell. All rights reserved.