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Optional Fields

What do you think is the preferred thing to do with optional form fields?

1) Show them, but mark them as optional.
2) Show them, but mark only fields that are required in some way.
3) Hide them, allow the customer to choose to provide the optional information (but expect that they won't).
4) Discard them and stop putting hurdles in front of your customers.

I've always shown them but marked them as optional (i.e. 1). I'm now thinking that they are barriers to entry and unnecessary clutter - and should therefore be removed. A couple of reasons (relating to my home page: ):

1) Email Address: I have no intention of sending a message to somebody outside of the forum and would expect (or at least 'want') other people to communicate with one another through the forum.

2) Website: If I only allowed those that have registered actually provide their web address would that not encourage registration? Though of the unregistered visitors- how many actually list a website with their message (not many)?

3) Location: Once again, a profile thing. If an unregistered visitor is simply posting a one-off message, then they, nor us, are interested in where they are on the planet. If they become regular it might improve the sense of community to know where people are based but...

This isn't supposed to be just about my website, so please don't just think in terms of 'there'; but rather, when you as a web designer come to produce forms, do you not stop and wonder if you *really really* need that information?

Gavin Laking Send private email
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Just incase anybody checks my site whilst reading my post above, I posted the same question there to see what my visitors thought also!
Gavin Laking Send private email
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
I would agree with you that the question is really whether or not the collection of the information is value-added or never used. 

If your current userbase never uses those fields than I think your answer is easy. Alternatively, if you see that it is about 50/50, than maybe you are just unhappy with your forms design and could redesign the UI.  In that case, maybe "hiding" the optional fields in a DIV and allowing users to show them for completion if they are interested.
Jeremy Send private email
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
I agree with Jeremey and would hide them. If you find over time that nobody enters data in these fields, then I'd remove them.
Former COBOL Programmer Send private email
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The convention is to show them, and mark required fields in some way -- an asterisk is typical.

Usually, you wouldn't HAVE 'optional' fields -- why show it to the user if you don't expect him to fill them out?  So, when you DO have 'required' fields (hopefully to reduce the amount of self-disclosure required from your user) you mark them so they know how much self-disclosure is absolutely required.

How one would "fill out" a "hidden" field needs to be specified.  Otherwise, nobody will ever fill them out, because they can't get at them.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
All fields should be optional unless marked as required. Too many programs are rigid and inflexible with data. It need not be so. I think much more can be done to minimize dependencies. Developer or Engineers should do more thinking so the user doesn't have to.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Why yes, I think computers should think more like a man too.  But they don't. 

That's why input tends to be inflexible -- it's got to be grabbed, stored, validity checked, and perhaps interpreted by a program run on a computer.  And a computer is a very literal beast.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
My experience is that the fields that are marked in some way are generally the required fields, not the optional ones.

Actually, there are really three types of fields:

1. Required fields.  For some business reason you have decided these fields are necessary, like a mailing address field, for shipment of goods - you can't ship something unless you know where to ship it.

2. Helper fields.  While not required, they may be necessary.  An example is "Address2."

3. Truly optional fields.

You can use optional fields now or you may want to collect the optional field information for future use.  For example, if you want to e-mail a survey to your clients about improvements to your software you need an e-mail address.  So, you ask for (but don't mandate entry of) the user's e-mail address.  Later, you send surveys to those clients who provided the address to you.

I think a lot of optional fields fall into this category: the marketing department says they don't have a specific use for the information today, but they might some day so since gathering and storing the information is essentially free, why not?  Since the fields are optional users can "opt out" of providing the data.

I've never been offended by requests for optional data - I just don't provide it.  However, like others here I do get offended if required to input information that really is not relevant.
Karl Perry Send private email
Friday, June 02, 2006

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