by anthony on 04/15/14 at 11:58 am
Are most of your users skipping the optional fields on your form? You might not need that extra information, but having it could help you learn more about users and give them a better experience. If you want more users to fill out the optional fields on your form, avoid marking required fields and mark optional ones only.
Research shows that most users approach forms with “voluntary over-disclosure” behavior. This means that they regularly offer more information than required even when they’re told that doing so is voluntary. This contradicts the traditional assumption that users approach forms with the intent to complete as few fields as possible. However, when you mark a form’s required fields, it jeopardizes voluntary over-disclosure and makes users skip optional fields.
Marking required fields enable users to do the bare minimum to complete your form. They’re going to put more importance on required fields and fill those out first while ignoring the optional ones. Why would they spend time on optional fields if they can fill out what’s required and move on? However, if you use voluntary over-disclosure to your advantage and mark optional fields only, users won’t feel the need to take shortcuts. They’ll fill out each field in a linear progression instead of scanning for required field markers. Optional fields will then get the attention they deserve.
Thinking users won’t fill out a field unless you mark it as required is wrong. Users’ default behavior is to give more information than requested on forms. Users won’t pay attention to optional fields if you mark required ones because it makes them want to fill out less. Stop marking required form fields. This includes marking them with asterisks. Then maybe this outdated practice perpetuated by bad forms can finally end.