Designing a long list of items that people mustchoose from.
1 Sep 2009 - 9:05am
5 years ago
Have you thought of doing a survey and having people self-identify their
occupation? No constraints, just a text field (or two- one for industry
and one for occupation). You could even do it as a fill in the blank,
eg, "I work as a _____ in the ______ industry."
You'd need a fairly large sample size, but it sounds like you may be
working with a well-defined audience.
Once you have a large list of how people think of their industry and
occupation, you can normalize it and that becomes your list.
You're never going to have a truly exhaustive list, though (unless
you're dealing with a very constrained system), so the choice becomes
having people not answer or answer incorrectly, vs having an optional
"not listed" selection and having them write-in their occupation if they
don't see it on the list. The first means you'll get less accurate
data, the second means you'll get more data that will be hard to do
anything with, so there are trade-offs either way.
I'm looking for some advice, examples or even recommendations of who
be good at solving this particular problem for us.
In the context of a longish multi-page web form we have a need for the
to tell us at a fairly granular level what their occupation is. the
length of the list is long, more than 1,000 choices. The accuracy of
answer is pretty important to our business as is our desire not to stop
users flow through the application because of either the difficulty or
perceived intrusiveness of the question. I should add that most users
view the question as being necessary based on their understanding of
they are filling out.
Currently we use an introductory question (labeled currently 'industry',
in the past 'line of work' - the better version) to narrow down the list
occupations that are presented to the individual. This approach may
the best solution to a difficult problem, but it brings a little
and cognitive overhead with it. Regularly when we observe users they
grumble that we are asking the same question twice, less so with the
of work' label I believe.
Part of the problem with we have with this approach is that the choices
the industry list are not very good. The selections for industry are
confusing and users don't always grasp that if their occupation is not
showing up as a choice the solution to the problem might be to choose a
different industry. The actual list has some regulatory constraints and
fair amount of internal political baggage.
We are looking for a way to develop a new taxonomy that might make the
process more understandable to the user, while preserving the level of
detail the business requires. Card-sorting doesn't seem like a good
here since ultimately we need to know how individual users categorize
own occupation, not how they classify a list of occupations with which
have varying degrees of familiarity. Because of the regulatory
we can't experiment with different versions of the list at any given
We've used surveys to test particular taxonomies in the past. Generally
surveys have proved a good way to rule things out, not develop something
that works well.
What thoughts do you all have on this? I really haven't found any
of folks who do something similar well. I'm interested in advice, or if
know someone (or if you are someone) who could do a good job of putting
new taxonomy together that would be good too. We may well have to bring
the magic aura of expertise that only consultants possess in order to
You can email me directly or reply to the list. Thanks in advance.
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