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Data Entry Guidelines

Having worked in data entry and having been an application developer, it is my opinion that most application developers have no idea what makes a good data entry form. So it is with great pleasure that I give you one or two nuggets of wisdom that I have picked up in my old age. Here are three important rules that I feel are very important when creating data entry style applications.

Rule 1: True Typists Hate Mice

Any fast typist resists taking his or her fingers off the keyboard to use the mouse. The laptop joysticks and touchpads aren't any better, either. Typists are fastest with fingers on the keyboard. Oracle Developer allows you to create key-triggers that modify the behavior of specific keys. Use them appropriately. When you have several blocks on a form, modify the Return key to send you to the next block for the last field on each block (unless it is not appropriate). That way, when you reach the end of the block, you don't have to hunt for the next block key or use the mouse the position the cursor correctly.

Also refrain from using list items, check boxes, and radio buttons. It is much faster for a true typist to type the word "white" than to choose from a list of colors. This may necessitate writing validation triggers to make sure proper values are entered, but the typist will appreciate the extra effort.

Rule 2: Put as Much Information On a Single Page As Possible

Graphics take up precious screen real estate, and are not needed in a data entry application. Therefore, leave them off the screen. Besides, most typists rarely look at the screen until they are done entering a page of information.

Because data entry applications are meant to put as much information in the computer as quickly as possible, allow the typist to put as much information as he can on a single screen. This means that you should shorten prompt information as much as possible. Although "fname" might not look as nice as "first name," the user knows what is meant and will fill out the form correctly.

Rule 3: Typists Make Mistakes, So Validate As Much As Possible

Yes, it is true. I do make mistakes when I type, and sometimes it isn't pretty. During one episode at Oracle, I put my fingers on the wrong home keys and entered an entire customer prospect incorrectly. Therefore, you will want to provide as much validation as possible. It is rare to include letters in phone numbers or numbers in names. Simple validation can save hours of decoding later.

Although there are more rules that help in the development of data entry applications, these three are what I believe to be the most important. Now, let's look at ease-of-use guidelines.

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