Notes and instructions

The notes and instructions on a form are usually of two main kinds:

  1. General notes and instructions about the number of copies to be completed, where to send them, what to send with the form and miscellaneous background information about statutory requirements, regulations etc.
  2. Instructions about how to answer the questions and complete the entry.

This broad distinction should be kept in mind when arranging items on the form.

It is essential that the form should contain all the information and directions needed to achieve its purpose. Sometimes a form can be designed for a particular group of users, but more commonly it is likely to be filled up by people of a wide range of competence and understanding and the instructions must be in phraseology suited to them all.

If, however, the result is a series of long notes which, in the mass, appear to be very complicated they may not be read at all and the object will be defeated. To get the right effect it may be necessary to paraphrase the detail of departmental or legal requirements; or to deal with main requirements only and to make the most general reference to exceptions.

Considerable judgement is therefore necessary, in deciding the scope, character and number of notes appropriate to any form especially if it is to be used by the public. The aim should be to produce something which is as brief as possible but which is quite clear to those concerned.

Forms designed purely for internal use seldom need lengthy instructions printed thereon because verbal explanations and help can be given by supervisory staff. Thus the extent of notes and instructions on a form depends greatly on the conditions under which it will be completed or processed.

Useful points in relation to the wording of notes and instructions are:

  1. Re-examine the wording of a question on the form that needs a long explanatory note; the question itself may need alteration or possibly breaking down into a number of separate questions.
  2. Avoid unnecessary words, e.g. the phrase ‘In every case in which particulars are furnished’ (eight words), can be reduced to ‘When particulars are given’ (four words): a phrase such as ‘It should be noted that the obligation to furnish particulars’ (ten words), is no less clear when reduced to ‘The obligation to give particulars’ (five words).

All wording should help the user by being specific, using an example where this is necessary.

  1. Consider other ways of instructing or explaining. Specimen entries are sometimes useful as examples and may obviate the need for lengthy instruction. Diagrams or pictures can help to make technical matters easily understood, and reduce the need for words.
  2. Words should be kept simple and unambiguous. To ensure that this is so, it is advisable to try the draft of any new form on someone who is unfamiliar with the document and its requirements. The clarity and style of wording may be improved by studying the publication, The Complete Plain Words (H.M.S.O.).

The instructions needed to make a correct entry on a form are most likely to be effective if they are placed immediately before and adjacent to the entry.

The use of asterisks involving frequent reference to elusive footnotes, or reference to instructions overleaf, during the process of completing the entries, interrupts the business and can be irritating, especially if the form is in a typewriter. This kind of inconvenience also increases the possibility of errors in completing the form.

Other general instructions concerning regulations, the number of copies, the disposal of the document etc. can be confusing if they are scattered about in different places on the form.

The users of a form do not always read the whole form before starting to complete the entries, and generally start at the top and work through it to the bottom. Generally any important instruction seen too late may be a source of inconvenience.

Care may sometimes be needed to avoid asking for what is difficult or impossible. For example, a request ‘Please do not fold’ may be difficult to meet if the document cannot be easily accommodated in the average sized pocket, envelope, or handbag.

Storage of the form is another factor to be considered when considering the quantity of notes and instructions. When the notes etc. are unavoidably lengthy they can sometimes be printed on a separate sheet and are then retained by the person filling in the form.

Flight Bulletin Form.
Field that reads “From Captain” with an illustration of a captain waving,
which continues into label that reads “to all passengers” with an illustration of passenger heads together.
Field that reads “RMA” with illustration of a small plane.
Table with title “Time” with fields “Local time is (the same time as one hour ahead of one hour behind) and “Local time in”.
Extract then skips to the bottom of the form which shows a series of illustrations.
First illustration shows a flight attendant handing the form to a passenger, then the following illustrations show other passengers growing impatient until a crowd gathers behind them.
Caption “Please pass on quickly”.
Footer title reads “British European Airways”.
The sketches at the bottom emphasise (with a minimum of wording) the request to pass on the document quickly
Crash Details form with a series of questions.
1 Did aircraft hit obstacles before principal. Fields read “impact?” and “What?”.
2 If so, probable speed before impact with obstacle, field reads “m.p.h.”.
3 Principal impact against, field to circle read: “field, road, buildings, trees, rocks, water”.
4 Probable speed at principal impact, field reads “m.p.h.”.
5 Flight path angle with ground, field reads “deg.”.
6 Altitude of aircraft at principal,
fields read “impact, nose down deg., level nose up deg., L. wing down deg., level laterally, R. wing down deg., inverted, right wing up,”.
7 Stopping distance of nose of aircraft after principal impact,
fields read “rolled ft;, bounced ft;, slid ft;, cartwheeled ft;, dug in (depth ft. in.)”.
8 Amount of telescoping between nose and pilot’s seat, field reads “fe. in.”.
9 Did fire precede principal impact?
Did fire follow accident?
How many seconds later?
Extent of fire?
Diagrams next to questions include:
a small cartoon plane crashing through a tree.
plane at an angle of the ground to show to measure the angle from the bottom of the plane towards the ground.
angle from the wingspan to the ground.
the stopping distance for a plane once it has crashed.
the nose of a plane with it crumpled to show telescoping.
A form used to aid analysis of injuries caused by aircraft accidents. The diagrams obviate the need for lengthy explanatory instructions about technical terms

As a first step, all notes and instructions should be classified, e.g. notes about entries, background information, notes about regulations, general notes about the number of copies, disposal of the form enclosures etc.

The layout and grouping should then be decided and (especially if the form is to be completed by a member of the public) the aim should be to make it easy for the filler-up to comprehend and complete the form; as far as possible the following points should be borne in mind:

  1. Bring together in one place all general notes and decide their order of importance. If any instructions need to be noted before the entries are started (e.g. ‘Complete two copies’ and ‘Use block capitals’) place them all where they will be noticed before the entries.

    The order in which they are set out may provide sufficient emphasis, but, when necessary, special points may need bolder type, or underlining etc.
  2. Place all notes about entries where they can be seen before entry and referred to while the entry is being made, e.g.:
    1. At the top of spaces for entries. This is very suitable for short instructions and notes.
    2. At the side of entry spaces. This is also suitable for short notes and may enable the binding margin to be used. If the notes are of irregular length this method may however be wasteful of space.
    3. Grouped at the head of a number of entries. Related questions can be grouped and the instructions similarly grouped and positioned before the questions. This method may succeed in placing notes where they are needed and help to break up a mass of printed matter into readily assimilated groups.
  3. Relegate other essential background notes to a position where they will not interfere with the completion of the form; avoid breaking up the entry area with such notes, and do not let them clutter up the heading of the form. If these notes are lengthy consider separating them from the main part of the form.

    Care is, however, needed to ensure that cross references between the form and notes are clear and unambiguous. Be consistent and uniform in the method of identifying parts of both documents—do not refer to ‘Section A’ in one place, and ‘Part A’ in another place. The occasions for cross reference should be kept to a minimum. Short notes which ought to be placed on the form for the convenience of the user, should not appear on an accompanying leaflet.

The application of these precepts may be difficult when the layout requirements of the office user conflict with those best suited to the person filling up the form.

For example, speedy completion of an office process may depend on having all the entries in a predetermined position on the front of the form, and this requirement may make it difficult, if not impossible, to place all the notes and instructions in an ideal position.

Problems of this kind are a challenge to the ingenuity of the form designer and it is necessary to evaluate and decide the resulting effects of different layouts, accepting such compromise as seems reasonable.

For an internal form (or whenever a book of forms is supplied) a set of instructions (with or without specimen entries) on the inside cover of the pad etc. may facilitate the work and reduce the consumption of paper.

Dividend form.
Along the side of the page a note reads: The Receipt or Authority should in the case of a firm be signed in the firm’s name, or in
the case of a limited company by an officer of the company, so described.
Side note reads:
No. C. 65.
Notice of Dividend.
In cases in which the payments are made by cheque substitute “cheques’ or ‘cheque.’.
Dividend Payable Orders* are cancelled at the expiration of three months from date
of issue, but will be re-issued free of charge on application within six
months from date of issue.
A fee of 1s. when the Dividend does not exceed £1, and 2s. 6d. when the Dividend
exceeds £1, is chargeable on the RE-ISSUE of each Dividend Payable Order*
after six months from date of issue—the fee being payable in Companies
(Winding-up) Stamps.
Main title for form: In the County Court, No. of 19.
Field reads: “In the matter of, blank field, limited”.
And in the matter of the companies act, 1948.
dividend of, blank field, in the £.
office of the official receiver,
Field that reads “Address”.
Notice is hereby given that a, blank field, Dividend of, blank field,
in the pound has been declared in this matter, and that the same may be received at
my office, as above, on blank field, the blank field day of 19
or on any subsequent day (except Saturdays), between the hours of blank field
and blank field.
Upon applying for payment this Notice must be produced entire, together with
any Bills of Exchange, Promissory Notes or other negotiable Securities held by you.
If_you desire the Dividend to be paid to some other person you should sign and lodge
with the Official Receiver and Liquidator an Authority in the prescribed form No. 68.
Otherwise, if you do not attend personally, you must fill up and sign the subjoined
Forms of Receipt and Authority to deliver, when a Dividend Payable Order* in your
favour will be delivered in accordance with the Authority,.
Field that reads “To”.
Signed by, Official Receiver and Liquidator.
Second form title Receipt.
Field that reads “No of 19”.
Field that reads “In the matter of”.
Received of the Official Receiver And Liquidator in this matter the sum of, field reads “pounds, shillings, pence”.
being the amount payable to, field reads “me or us”, in respect of the Dividend of, field reads “in the £”, on, field reads “my or our”, claim against this Company.
Field reads “Payee’s signature”.
(Exempt from Stamp Duty).
Field that indicates a total can be added to the form.
Third form authority for delivery.
(a) Note—This is an authority only to deliver the Payable Order, NOT to make it payable to another person,
(b) Strike out words inapplicable. If not to be sent by post, strike out
words in italics, and insert the name of the person who is to receive the Order.
Sir, Please deliver to, field reads “me or us”, by post, at, field reads “my or our”, risk or to the Bearer, field reads “Mr”
the Order for the Dividend payable to, field reads “me or us” in this matter.
Field reads “Payee’s Signature”.
Field reads “Date”.
To the Official Receiver and Liquidator.
End of form.
When notes and instructions are placed in several different places on the form with various styles and sizes of type, the document tends to lose its simplicity and look unnecessarily complicated
Office Stamp.
Note reads: (FOR OFFICIAL USE)
Marriage Certificate, (Enclosed, Not Enclosed, Returned).
MPNI Crown insignia.
Before completing this form you should read leaflet N.I.I7A and the notes below.
A copy of the leaflet is enclosed and further copies can be obtained from your local
Pensions & National Insurance Office, to whom you should send the completed form.
You should complete Part 1 of this form yourself. Items 6-10 should not be answered unless you
are claiming maternity allowance which is payable only on the claimant’s own contribution record
in respect of work as an employed or self-employed person.
If you are claiming before confinement, you should not complete item 11 and you will not be
concerned with Part 3 of the form. You should ask your doctor or midwife to complete Part 2.
If you are claiming after confinement you should ask your doctor or midwife to complete Part 3
(not Part 2). You should also complete item 11,
Item 12 must be completed in all cases.
If for any reason you are unable to get Part 2 or Part 3 completed, consult your Pensions and
National Insurance Office.
If you are claiming maternity allowance, this form should be completed not more than
14 weeks before the week in which you expect your confinement (it cannot be accepted earlier) and
If you do not claim by the 11th week you may lose benefit to which you might otherwise be entitled.
If your claim is made later than the 11th week, but you consider that you have good cause for
not claiming earlier, a statement of your reasons should be attached to this form.
If you are not claiming maternity allowance, this form should be completed not more than
9 weeks before the week in which you expect your confinement. If you do not claim within three
months from the date of your confinement, maternity grant and home confinement grant may not
be payable.
If you are claiming maternity allowance, enclose your present National Insurance card if you are
holding it. If the card is with your employer, do not delay sending in this form, but give the name
and address of your employer at item 10.
If you wish to claim maternity grant on your husband’s insurance you should enclose your
marriage certificate.
Form B.M.4.
Please turn over.
General notes and instructions are classified and grouped together in one place on the form to assist comprehension
3 Notes referred to on the Form overleaf.
(a) Enter here a brief description of the goods or processes to which the agreement
(b) Insert name of trade association.
(c) The whole of the terms of the agreement and not merely those involving restrictions
must be provided. The documents sent must also include any recommendations by
the association of the kind referred to in section 6 (7) of the Act and if some only
of the members of the association receive a recommendation, the documents sent must
include a separate list of those members (in addition to the full list of members
referred to in (d) below).
(d) The Act regards all members of a trade association and persons represented on it by
members as parties to the agreement. The documents sent in must therefore include
a list of all members of the association and persons (including companies, partner-
ships etc.) represented by members.
(e) The entries at (i) and (ii) of the Certificate should be the title or some identifiable
description of each document sent. Documents should be serially numbered and
page numbered for reference in any correspondence that may arise. Four copies OF
EACH DOCUMENT MUST BE SUPPLIED, three for the London, Edinburgh and Belfast
registers, and one for office use.
(f) e.g. “Secretary Of the, blank field, Association”, “a partner of
Messrs. Blank field, Solicitors”, etc.
A layout such as this separates entry instructions from the entries overleaf and may increase the possibility of error. Turning the page to read the instruction is even more inconvenient if the form is in a typewriter. Instructions (a), (b) and (f) could be eliminated by re-wording the entry captions, thus reducing the amount of text to a minimum.