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Forms: Can’t Live With Them And Can’t Live Without Them!

Who hasn’t gone to the doctor’s office and said, "Wow, great forms! I could fill these out all day!" Ok, so maybe that hasn’t happened to you. It’s more likely that we encounter tiny print, small spaces to write on, redundancy in the information we have to fill out, and poor copy quality that makes it hard to read.

What about in your work? What kind of experience do your clients have with forms?

We know there can be lots of reasons why forms go wrong:

  • You use government forms that you just have to live with.

  • You have a lot of information to gather, so every detail is included in the forms.

  • There is a lack of organization or planning or time.

Additional reasons for challenges might be staff turnover, limited historical knowledge, or lack of clear understanding of why certain data points are needed.

Why should we care about forms?

  • Forms may be one of the first parts of your organization that a person might encounter. First impressions say a lot!

  • Are your forms impacting your effectiveness? Are people filling them out incorrectly? Are they overwhelmed and leave without completing them? These are opportunities to not only make your processes smoother but also create a better experience for your participants.

Examples from the Field:

Here are some great examples of people taking action around forms to create more effective and accessible systems:

  • The behavioral science team at Ideas42 and the University of Chicago’s New York Crime Lab did an array of work around improving response to criminal court summonses, including a redesign of the summons form. The form revision was just one element of a greater response to making this system more effective.

  • Here’s also a report from the organization Transcend about their work with California court forms. They cited noticeable improvement in understanding of the content.

  • And check out this Michigan Medigap Subsidy Program Application, from MAXIMUS Center for Health Literacy to see a ClearMark award winner, given by the Center for Plain Language for clear design. We love the clear design elements of this one!

Key Takeaway:

Take control of your forms. Do you feel like your forms could use a pick me up? Join us for our upcoming webinar, Plain Language Foundations: Making Forms That Work for You and Your Participants, on June 10 at 2:00 pm CST. You can register at



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