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How to write good questions for forms - Test your questions

Test your questions and answers with real users and the staff who deal with the form.

Understand your users, their context and your existing forms

If you have not already done so, you should start by understanding the problem, including who your users are. Watch them fill in any existing forms. If you do not have an existing form, how do users get the service at the moment?

Understand the context in which users will be filling in the form. For example, we've found that people registering with a new GP are often filling in lots of change of address forms. This affects what they expect of the form and how they fill it in.

Explore and test your questions in different ways

There are many ways of testing questions in forms. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Throughout your user testing, look carefully at what users do or do not do. How they behave will tell you more than what they say. But note what users say too. The quotes can be useful to back up and illustrate your research findings.

Voice the questions

Use a script and talk through the questions. You can do this with colleagues or with real users. It will give you a chance to check that:

  • users understand the questions and give you appropriate replies
  • it sounds like a conversation
  • you've got the questions in a sensible order

It'll also help you identify anything users need more help with.

Do a card sorting exercise

Doing a card sorting exercise with users will help you get the questions into order. Put the topics or questions on cards or post-its. Ask users to group them in a way that makes sense to them. Get them to talk out loud while they do so, so that you can understand their reasons.

Look for themes and pay attention to the cards people leave out or cannot place.

You could do this as part of a co-design workshop with users, where you card sort and sketch in groups. You could also do it as a team exercise or in a workshop with staff.

Sketch things out

This is a good way to explore different ideas with colleagues. You can also sketch out different approaches with users.

Download and print out our NHS sketch templates:

Make a paper prototype

Paper prototypes let you try out different approaches to the form early on. Explore them with colleagues or test them with users in groups or pop-up interviews.

You can:

  • watch and listen as real users fill a paper form in
  • print the prototype, cut out the questions or form elements, and move the pieces around with your team or with users, experimenting with routing and ordering the questions in different ways
  • ask users to highlight the things they like and cross out the bits they do not like

Or you could show the "paper" form to users on a screen and see how they expect to interact with it.

Bear in mind that users may respond very differently to questions you have already tested when they see them in a designed form.

Create a simple code prototype

When you build a code prototype, you'll get a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your form. It'll be better for user research too, because users can interact with it. It looks like the real thing and will give you more realistic results.

Use the NHS.UK prototype kit to build your interactive prototype. Run a moderated usability test to see if users understand what they need to do and can complete the task.

Test your questions with real users

Make sure you test with a range of users, including people:

  • with access needs - read more about user research in our accessibility guidance
  • with varying digital skills and connectivity
  • who need to involve their families, carers, or advocates
  • with 2 home addresses or no address

What to look for when testing

Try to understand things like:

  • how people's literacy or digital skills affect their ability to fill in the form
  • where they misinterpret a question, for example, where they put in the wrong information or not enough information
  • where they get frustrated or drop out and why

Depending on your service, you may also need to consider:

  • whether people need to have documents or key information (like their NHS number) when they fill in the form and if so, how they find them
  • whether they try to paste in information
  • what happens if users start online, then follow up offline, or vice versa

Test the answers with staff and systems

Talk to knowledgeable staff, like receptionists, call handlers, contact centre staff or service desk teams. Give yourself enough lead-in time to arrange this.

Test the answers with the people who:

  • deal with the forms as they arrive
  • use the information or data in the forms
  • deal with enquiries about the forms

What do staff do with the data? For example, do they download it into an Excel spreadsheet? The output of your form or service must be easy for staff to use in their everyday systems and processes.

Watch out for:

  • any mistakes users have made, especially anything that might fail validation
  • any answers that do not make sense in the context of the service
  • if anything essential is missing
  • if users have included any notes or additional information in free text fields to explain entries on the form

Most of all, focus on the errors.

Iterate your questions

Use the findings from your testing to help iterate and improve your questions. Then iterate your iterations.

Continue to test your live form

Once you've launched your form, it's a good time to collect quantitive data, for example, through a feedback survey.

Check your analytics to see how many people have completed the form, how many are part completed and how many fail. Where are people dropping out?

You may identify more areas for qualitative research, for example:

  • situations in which users fill in the form that you have not yet considered
  • areas of the form that aren't giving you the answers you need

Read more about prototyping and testing

There are some good resources on GOV.UK:

Updated: November 2019