September 24, 2019 Debbie Misra

How To Avoid “Satisficing” Online Forms

Have you ever tried to catch up with the news, only to scan headlines rather than reading through articles? Did you ever Google something, and not bother looking past the first page of search results? Have you ever gone online to price a product, and only checked two or three sites rather than the top ten listed?

Then you have been guilty of satisficing!

Don’t worry, though — it’s a totally normal human thing to do. And although it’s a rather obscure term, if you manage website content, you should know what satisficing means.

According to Wikipedia, satisficing is a combination of the words “satisfy” and “sufficing,” and is defined as a decision-making strategy that entails meeting a minimum level of acceptability, as opposed to seeking the best alternative available. In other words, it’s the human tendency to expend the lowest amount of energy to complete a task.

Basically, satisficing is a fancy way of explaining why people tend to be lazy!

Of course, we may prefer to think of satisficing as being expedient or time-efficient… The fact is, life in the digital age tends to be pretty frenzied for most people, and taking the time to thoroughly examine and consider each and every detail simply isn’t feasible — so we get by with “satisficing.”

But when it comes to getting data from your website users through an online form, the tendency to satisfice is more than an oversight: it can result in data errors! So it’s important to know how to create forms that help to circumvent the satisficing habit.

Remember: people overwhelmingly dislike to fill out lengthy forms! Here are a few important ways to satisfice-proof your online forms:

1. Put the most important details at the beginning of questions.

Suppose your form is an application for a university lab internship. One of the questions might be:

A satisficing user might stop reading at “been affiliated with any other labs,” and provide an incorrect answer; for example, perhaps they worked with another lab six years ago. If submitted, that information would be irrelevant, and could skew your data.

A better way to frame the question is to “front-load” the sentence, by putting the important delimiter at the beginning: “In the past two years, have you been affiliated with any other labs?” The first part of the sentence doesn’t make any sense without the rest of the question, so it’s more likely to be read all the way through, and thus receive a correct answer.

2. Don’t rely on supporting lines of description; include all relevant information in the same question.

Imagine your nonprofit has an event sponsorship form online. One of the questions might be:

The satisficer is likely to miss the secondary line as they rush through the question; again, increasing the likelihood of an error in response. A better way to phrase the question would be, “Including the two complimentary VIP seats provided, how many seats total would you like to sponsor?

3. Turn important instructions into questions.

If instructions are important, make sure they’re incorporated into questions. Notice below where the instructions for the mailing address are located: after the form field. A satisficing user may miss the instructions and end up unnecessarily filling out both fields, wasting time and increasing frustration with the form process.

Every opportunity to make the form-completion process more streamlined is an improvement that will be appreciated by your users! You’ve probably seen this method of incorporating instructions into a question that can save the user precious time:

Bottom line: If you want to avoid errors from satisficers on your online forms, don’t indulge in satisficing yourself! Take the time to consider all the best ways possible to make your form clear, concise and streamlined. You’ll receive more accurate data, and cultivate happier users.

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