User Guidance

Most of the help and feedback on a site pertain to the interactive aspects. This guide addresses most of its help and feedback guidelines to forms. The term “help text” refers to (usually short) text that appears on a page, usually close to the item (e.g., form element) for which it provides guidance.


Help text to explain unfamiliar data requests

Help text should be used for explaining unfamiliar data requests, such as why certain questions are being asked, security and privacy concerns, recommended ways of providing answers, and indicating optional answers.

Use of help text within input fields

Help text within input fields should be used only to provide recommended ways of answering questions.

Specificity of help text

Help should be as specific as possible.

Position of triggers for user-activated help

Triggers for user-activated help, such as icons, links, or buttons, should appear next to labels rather than to input fields.

Use of help in requests for sensitive information

Actionable help that allows people to confirm that their information is safe should be used when a form is asking for sensitive information.

Error Messages

Indication of error blocking completion

When an error is blocking the user from completing a form, the error message must clearly communicate that.

Display of error messages in context

Error messages should be displayed in context.

  • Example: If the user omitted the ZIP code, the error message requesting the ZIP code appears next to the ZIP code field.

Indication of action necessary to correct error

Error messages should indicate what must be done to correct the errors, rather than what is wrong.

  • Example: “Please enter your ZIP code.”

Display of multiple error messages together

If multiple errors exist in form data, their messages should be listed together.

Indication of data elements containing errors

Form data elements that contain errors should be marked clearly.

Use of inline validation

Inline validation may be used to confirm or suggest valid input.

Use of inline confirmation

In forms, questions with potentially high error rates or specific formatting requirements may use inline confirmation.

Success Messages

Success message to indicate successful completion of a form

When a form has been completed successfully, the site must clearly communicate that.

Success message in context

Success messages should be provided in context, so as not to block any further progress.