Open form fields and abusability

28 Jul 2010 - 11:06am
3 years ago
3 replies
381 reads
vlad
2008

Hello!

We run a job board where people create resumes and apply to job offerings.

For each of their previous workplaces, we require them, amongst other things, to enter the city they worked in.
As you might have guessed, the city field is open (i.e. a normal text field)


We decided it's high time to close that field and offer a combo box.
When looking at the various values people have entered in the city field, we found that
a lot of users entered more info than was required (e.g. city+district, the company's full address,

or even all the cities that the company has offices in).

This led me to believe that whenever people have open text fields, they tend to provide more info than required,
or even more info that would be sensible to include (you usually don't write full addresses of previous workplaces in your resume)


Is there any research on this subject? I'm interested to know how much people tend to abuse open fields,
and when to close fields for the sole reason of suggesting people what info should they include.

As a side question, how to mitigate user's expectations when closing such fields?
(i.e. some of them might expect the 'city' field to be left open and may find annoying when websites tinker with their info)

Thanks!

--
Vlad Fratila

Phone: +40 723 684 192
Skype/Gtalk: vlad.fratila

Comments

28 Jul 2010 - 4:16pm
Ania Powers
2010

Hi,

I don't know any research regarding this topic, but just basing on common sense: when you look for a job, you probably look in more than one place, which means, you fill bunch of online applications and you either type or copy+paste the same piece(s) of information, separated in chunks, dozens of times anyway, so the simpler it is (in this case: less fields to fill manually for every position), the better.

Regarding previous employer's address: I've actually seen this requirement few times, mostly in applications for government positions, universities, newspapers etc. Maybe open field with limited number of characters (with little tag saying "max 30 characters" or something) would help.

29 Jul 2010 - 1:27am
Dimiter Simov
2006

I guess you want to close the field, so you can perform queries against the data. I would suggest two things:

1. Close the field but make it a multi-select one. Let people select as many cities as they want. (Of course make sure they can type, not just select from a dropdown.)

2. Allow users to both select existing cities, and enter new ones.

You may also want to provide an additional field where users can enter unstructured "additional info".

29 Jul 2010 - 12:05pm
Diana Wynne
2008

Hi Vlad,
It's great that you want your data to be clean, but please don't think of the user actions you're describing as abuse. As you note, users follow the conventions and rules you set for them, and inform them about. 
So build a forms interface that makes it easy for them to give you what you want, allowing them as much flexibility as possible without compromising data integrity. For example, there's no reason to be strict about phone number formats with spaces and dashes and parenthesis, if you can interpret what users are saying. This doesn't help distinguish St. Petersburg from Saint Petersburg though. 
For location, you could use postal code to derive the city (or something close to it). In the US a zip code lookup provides city. 
Travel sites approach this by using standard airport locations with an autocomplete, so typing Cancun gets me Cancun airport area, but so does CUN, which is the airport code.
You may have a widely distributed user base, but people and jobs do tend to be concentrated in population centers, reducing the number of options. Rural areas can be larger.
Hope this is helpful,
Diana

On Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 11:46 AM, vlad <vlad.fratila@gmail.com> wrote:

Hello!

We run a job board where people create resumes and apply to job offerings.

For each of their previous workplaces, we require them, amongst other things, to enter the city they worked in.
As you might have guessed, the city field is open (i.e. a normal text field)

We decided it's high time to close that field and offer a combo box.
When looking at the various values people have entered in the city field, we found that
a lot of users entered more info than was required (e.g. city+district, the company's full address,

or even all the cities that the company has offices in).

This led me to believe that whenever people have open text fields, they tend to provide more info than required,
or even more info that would be sensible to include (you usually don't write full addresses of previous workplaces in your resume)

Is there any research on this subject? I'm interested to know how much people tend to abuse open fields,
and when to close fields for the sole reason of suggesting people what info should they include.

As a side question, how to mitigate user's expectations when closing such fields?
(i.e. some of them might expect the 'city' field to be left open and may find annoying when websites tinker with their info)

Thanks!
--
Vlad Fratila

Phone: +40 723 684 192
Skype/Gtalk: vlad.fratila

(((
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