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Tips for Data Entry Form Design
One of the most significant factors affecting data entry or forms processing cost is the design of the source document. Yet many organizations never consider the impact of the actual form design on data entry efficiency or accuracy until after they learn how much it will cost to process their documents. This is especially true when forms are designed by marketing or graphic design staff that place greater emphasis on aesthetics than on operational efficiency.
And not only do you have to consider the impact on keying or scanning, but what can really kill budgets is excessive time needed to prepare the documents for scanning or data entry caused by an unfortunate design flaw.
Some of the more significant factors are discussed below.
Constrained vs. Unconstrained Forms
Most people do not write very legibly, especially when they use cursive writing. Illegible hand writing and printing not only reduces accuracy; it also increases the time it takes for someone to key the data or verify keyed or recognized data.
On an unconstrained form there may be very little restrictions on how responses can be entered, which frequently promotes sloppy and illegible entries. The following are two examples of how fields might be set up on an unconstrained form:
If people are in a hurry when they fill out your forms (say while waiting in a retail store checkout lane), the above two formats will almost insure a high percent of sloppy and illegible entries.
The most effective way to promote legible hand print is to provide a lettering grid for each field into which a person would print one letter at a time into a single block. The following is an example:
Whether your data entry vendor is keying form paper, keying from scanned image, or using recognition technology, a constrained form will vastly improve the chances of data entry accuracy and efficiency.
Number Each Field or Question
This is not critical for simplistic forms involving only a handful of fields. However, it is absolutely critical when trying to enter the data from complex, multi-page questionnaires or surveys involving many different fields and many different types of fields.
For each new project requiring keying, a programming effort is undertaken to set up a “template” within our data entry system. The template must include a field for each field on a client’s form. When data entry operators are keying from scanned image (or keying from paper) the less they have to read, the faster and more accurate the data entry will be.
Imagine having to develop a data entry template for 27 page survey involving over 150 complex questions, each having several sub-parts – a total of over 600 potential values. If each question and sub-question is numbered, then all we have to put on the data entry screen are the question numbers, not the actual questions. Then the data entry operator merely has to read the question NUMBERS on the form (not the actual question) and key the answers into the corresponding numbered field on the data entry screen. Without having the identifying numbers on the source document, data entry operators would have to read each question on the form and match it up with the corresponding field in the data entry program. In addition, the programming becomes much more difficult. We routinely decline such projects because of the high likelihood of error unless the forms are designed properly.
Use Check Boxes
Use check boxes (or radio buttons) to standardize answers and promote single-value entries. If your vendor employs recognition technology (OMR – Optical Mark Recognition) using check boxes can eliminate much of the manual data entry and promote accuracy. In this case, we recommend that you use a circle instead of a box, because people are more apt to fill in the circle (promoting recognition), but will usually put an “X” in the box (reducing recognition).
Give Each Checkbox a Numeric Value
If the forms will be keyed, we strongly recommend that each checkbox have a numeric value displayed next to it, representing the single digit the data entry operator will key if the box is checked. This not only cuts down on keystrokes, but also improves productivity and accuracy, because the data entry operator does not have to “read” and interpret the responses. The following is an example:
Although the above example is very simplistic, when we are dealing with complex forms involving hundreds of checkboxes, each having a different meaning, the task of “getting it right” can become daunting if the data entry operator has to match up the response on the form to the corresponding field on the data entry screen.
Avoid Stick-on Labels
Loyalty card programs and similar applications involve the use of a card number (or member number) which is assigned at the point of sale (or issue) and must appear on the enrollment form. To reduce printing costs, some organizations opt for having a sticker or label glued to the enrollment form. The unfortunate result of this decision is that it plays untold havoc on document handling, scanning, and data entry. For example:
• Forms are difficult to handle, stack, store, and scan, due to the different thicknesses (i.e. thick where the sticker is, thin everywhere else – a stack of 100 forms measures 3 inches high on the end where the sticker is and 1 inch high on the other end)
The end result of using a sticker is that total cost is actually INCREASED, because the increase in document preparation, scanning, and data entry cost is far greater than the savings in printing costs.
As a result, we recommend that membership numbers be pre-printed on the enrollment forms. Although initial printing costs will be higher, this will result in a much more efficient and streamlined back end process, which will more than offset the higher printing costs.
Use Reasonable Field Sizes
The amount of space allocated to each field on your form needs to be reasonable. Too often, we see forms so small that the person filling in the information has inadequate space to print the information. A classic example is e-mail addresses. The average e-mail address is 20 characters long, yet you should allow room for at least 30-35 characters. The average name, including middle initial, is 15 characters, the average address is 16 characters, and the average city is 12. However, you need to allow much more room for these values. If you have a cramped form, the entries will be illegible, which will slow down processing and result in lower accuracy.
Use Registration Points on Documents to be Scanned
Most scanning software will use registration points on a document to align the image and make sure the appropriate fields are recognized, even if the document is fed into the scanner crooked. Registration points are typically simple geometric symbols, such as a dark square or triangle.
Use Check-Digits and Barcodes for Your ID Numbers
Whenever possible, use a check-digit as part of the ID number printed on your enrollment or registration form. A check-digit is a single numeric character whose value is calculated based on certain algorithm and used for the purpose of performing a mathematical check to ensure the accuracy of the data. A check-digit is usually the last character in the ID number. Whenever a check-digit is used in building your ID number scheme, we will incorporate the check-digit formula into our data entry system to validate the accuracy of the keyed or recognized number, thus promoting efficiency and higher accuracy.
Likewise, because we utilize barcode recognition in our scanning process, we are able to “read” the barcodes on your forms with a very high (near 100%) degree of accuracy. If the numeric values represented by the barcodes also include a check-digit, this will further enhance accuracy and efficiency in capturing the data.
Self-mailer vs. Envelope-stuffer
If your enrollment or customer response forms sent directly to Axion are mailed in an envelope, this drives up the cost of document preparation significantly. Our recommendation is to use self-mailers whenever possible.
Tri-fold, Bi-fold, or No-fold
No-fold is the best. When processing 100,000 documents for a client, having to unfold each one increases the cost of document preparation. We are more than happy to charge you for the extra work needed to prepare the documents for scanning; however, whenever possible, have the portion sent to Axion be a single, flat document.
Form Number (form ID)
When we are processing multiple forms for a client, each form must have it’s own “template” with data fields mapped to specific locations on each form. Using a pre-printed form ID number enables our scanning software to determine which form is being scanned. This makes the scanning process more efficient.
Keep It Short
People standing in check-out lines do not want to be slowed down by having to answer 100 questions – unless there is a direct benefit of doing so, such as a free subscription or entry into a contest. Too often we see a client’s double-sided, 8 ½ x 11 forms filled with optional “demographic” questions, yet many are returned blank except for the enrollment information at the top.
Other possible areas of interest:
Factors Affecting Cost
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