Have you ever become frustrated while completing a form? You might have thought, “What on earth do they mean?” or “I can’t imagine why they need that information,” or “Didn’t they ask that before?” Sadly, too many people fail to place themselves in the position of those who will complete the forms they design. As a result, they alienate customers, clients, students or constituents.

Here’s an example. My daughter has been applying to medical schools. As I have helped proof and edit her submissions, I have been fascinated and amused by the forms she’s been asked to complete. After medical school applicants complete the “common application” administered by the American Association of Medical Colleges, individual schools ask applicants to answer more detailed questions on so-called “secondary applications.”

While many of these questions seek the student’s perspective or beliefs about the health professions, several have asked things like, “If you had to give yourself a nickname, what would it be?” That’s kind of like the old training exercise that asked, “If you were a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you be?”

Then there are the requests for information such as the exact number of days and hours worked in an internship. In the big picture, WHO CARES? In some cases, this information is impossible to calculate. Even if it was, why take the time?

Finally, there was the request to “spell your name phonetically.” Without an intimate knowledge of the special keys and functions in Microsoft Word, this can be darned difficult. On top of this, every time, you think you’ve got it, Microsoft Word tries to correct it. If I want to know how a person’s name is pronounced these days, I find a pronunciation app online. Why can’t the medical schools do that?

Bottom line? The next time you create a form, any form, pass it around to several people who might have to complete it. Ask them to critique the layout, the organization, the appropriateness of the information requested, and size of the fields allowed for names, addresses, phone numbers and the like. Design forms for others the way you would like them to be designed for you.

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