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Paper layout

The eye leads into the page from the top left, and the layout of elements on the page will determine where the eye travels to next. Designing a clear and logical path for the eye to follow while reading through pages of questions is critical for self-administered questionnaires. It is an issue that should be tested with cognitive testing.

General page layout

The layout should help respondents to quickly work out where, and how to start.

Present information so that respondents can read from left to right, starting at the top of a page and working down.

Add visual components to guide respondents through the words and sentences in the desired order, but ensure all elements are used consistently so that their meanings are always obvious to the reader. Filling in a questionnaire is a cumulative learning experience, and respondents quickly learn that such things as question numbers are a certain size, shape and colour, and that answer spaces are the same. Conveying the same type of information consistently throughout a questionnaire aids respondents by making the response task straightforward and the desired navigational path easier to follow.

Place information not needed by respondents, such as office use only information, in the bottom right quadrant of the page.

Where possible, avoid continuing sections from one page to the next. However, it is better to continue sections over the page than squashing the information together to make it fit on one page, or leaving large empty spaces.

Sequential navigation

Ensure the order in which information is presented to respondents is logical.

Minimise the need for respondents to refer to previous answers, so respondents always move forward through the questionnaire.top

Spacing

Use spacing to identify appropriate groups, such as the elements in a question.

Place all the elements within a question (question number, question wording, instructions and response options) closer to each other vertically than to surrounding questions. This enables the respondent to easily distinguish between questions and to see the question as a whole.

Ensure spacing between similar elements is consistent. For example, keep the space between question panes consistent throughout the questionnaire.

Example of consistent spacing between question panes

Image, Example of consistent spacing between question panes.  top

Alignment

Use vertical alignment to ensure the page looks tidy. For example, ensure all answer spaces are aligned down the page.

Example of vertical alignment for right-aligned answer spaces

Image, Example of consistent spacing between question panes.

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