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DAVIS Eric <[log in to unmask]>
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DAVIS Eric <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 9 Aug 2005 16:05:29 -0400
text/plain (138 lines)
Back in June, I requested information about displaying error messages in
PDF forms. Below are my original request and the responses I received.
Thanks to all respondents.


I'm trying to figure out how to display error messages in PDF forms. 

The site we're building makes extensive use of forms, which the user can
complete both on- and offline. Upon submitting the form, the system
validates each field. If there are errors within the form, how should we
display them? 

Options that we've thought of include:
1)       List all invalid fields at the top of page one. But will the
user think that they pertain to page one only? Many of our forms are 4
to 6 pages each, so we need to be sure that users realize that any
errors atop page one are for the entire form. 

2)       Display the errors for a page atop the page. So page one errors
are atop page one, page two errors are atop page two, and so on. But you
don't get a good sense of how many errors there actually are, unless you
scroll through the form.

3)       Pop a separate window that lists the errors. The users could
keep this window open as they scroll through the form. Generally,
though, we're trying to avoid pop-ups.

In addition to whatever convention we choose, we'd also display each
offending field in red throughout the form, so that if users scroll
through the form, they can see the errors. 

Does anyone have experience displaying errors in PDF forms? Have you
used one of these 3 options, or perhaps something different we haven't
yet thought of?

Please reply directly to me. I will compile responses and present a
summary to the list. After I summarize, we can begin discussion.

Thanks for your input,



Technical Architect Mark Singletary wrote:
I have used on-line PDF forms in the past (gave them up as to costly to
keep). The error approach I used was much like that in many IDEs. Put
the list of errors up front, each item on the list shows an error
message and a page number, also each item was a clickable link. Clicking
it takes the user directly to the offending entry.

According to Mitchell Gart:
Users get lost inside PDF files, which are typically big, linear text
blobs that are optimized for print and unpleasant to read and navigate
online. PDF is good for printing, but that's it. Don't use it for online

Celeste Paul scribed:
I think putting all the invalid fields at the top of the beginning page
is a better idea than putting page specific errors throughout the
Perhaps explicitly state that the listed errors are within the entire
document and not just that page.

Can you create bookmarks to the questions the errors occurred in?  The
user could click on the error in the beginning of the document and be
directed to the exact place the error occurred.  Making mistakes easily
visible will help users find their mistakes if they miss the bookmarked
errors at the beginning of the page.

Susan Miller, Information Architect, contributed:
Can you still create links within a PDF? 
Seems like being able to take the folks to the specific errors would
make your option 3 the easiest to 1) get an overview of the number of
errors and 2) provide a persistent way to jump between errors.
Virginia Bruce added:
If you can make the errors link to their position - take the user
directly there, you'd really have something useful. They can see what
they have to deal with and conveniently check them off the list. It
would be worth a popup I think.

Said Experience Architect Amy Silvers:
I would treat error messaging in PDFs the same way I'd treat it on an
HTML page, because I don't think users strongly differentiate between
the two for the purposes of task completion. I'd group all the invalid
fields in a bulleted or numbered list at the top of the page, and also
highlight each invalid field in red, as you plan to. You could use copy
to address the potential issue of users thinking the error messages only
apply to the first page, e.g. the copy could read: "Your form contains
invalid fields. Please make sure to correct the errors highlighted in
red on all pages of this form." (That's too wordy, but the general idea
is there.)

Option 2 isn't a bad one, but I suspect that users would feel frustrated
by seeing new lists of errors on every page. There's also the risk that
they'd think the same errors were being repeated at the top of each
page, and thus ignore them after the first page. 


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Eric J. Davis
Manager | User Experience
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