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 Databasics III: Data entry design

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Age : 31
Registration date : 2008-03-15

PostSubject: Databasics III: Data entry design   Fri 28 Mar - 17:51

It's staggering how many shareware and commercial database applications have appalling data entry screens. Many developers seem to think that well-oiled inner workings are all that's needed to sell an application, when any user knows that, when you get down to it, the interface is the app.

When you're designing a database application, you're taking on the role of a developer. As you do so, remember to keep the soul of a user. While the brain work in building a database comes during the design stage, the hard slog comes when you or other people start adding data to that structure, especially when there are copious amounts of data to add. You can alleviate much of the tedium of data entry by ensuring your data entry forms are logically organised, easy on the eyes and efficient.

Data entry guidelines
Exactly how you design your data entry screens will depend on the database program you're using, the amount of data you're dealing with, the needs and likes of the data entry personnel, and any application-specific requirements that may exist.

If you're designing a database purely for your own use it's still worth designing well-thought-out data entry screens. After all, why should you make life harder for yourself when a little effort in the design phase will make using your database easier for all time?

The following guidelines will help you design data attractive and easy-to-use data entry screens.

i. Organise fields logically
Group related fields together and use boxes or colour coding to make it easy for users to zero in on information quickly.

ii. Don't clutter
Space fields on the screen so users can easily spot the field they need to edit.

iii. Don't force users to scroll
If possible, make sure all your fields are visible simultaneously, so users don't have to keep switching between the keyboard (for data entry) and the mouse (for scrolling), and so users can see all information at a glance. It's also worth avoiding scrolled data entry screens as people have a tendency to forget about those invisible fields lurking off the bottom of the screen and leave them blank.

If you have a large number of fields in your database and you don't want to create clutter but still want to avoid scrolling, try using a tabbed interface (see Figure 2). With a tabbed interface, you can separate fields into logical groupings, with each group on its own tab. This approach avoids clutter while keeping everything on the screen
. Validate data as it's entered
You should design your forms so they check for invalid data and give users a chance to correct mistakes they've made. Much of this validation can be done during database definition; some you'll add during form design.

We'll look at data validation in more detail in the future as well.

Experimenting with forms
Each database program provides different tools for designing data entry forms. Most are very fiddly to work with, so it pays to practice. One of the best ways to do that is to use the standard data entry form created by the database and then mess around with it. Don't do this experimenting on a 'live' database. Create a sample one from scratch, if you like, and work with it.

If you're using Lotus Approach, you modify the data entry screens by clicking the Design button on the toolbar. Then click the Properties button on the toolbar (its icon is a yellow square overlaying a blue square at an angle) and then try clicking different objects on the screen and inspecting and changing the contents of the Properties box for that object.

In FileMaker Pro select Layout Mode from the View Menu. Right-click an object to adjust its properties.

In Access, select a table in the Tables section of the database objects window, click the New Object: Autoform button on the toolbar to create a new form, and then click the View button on the toolbar to switch to Design View. Click the Properties button on the toolbar and select different objects on the form to adjust the settings.

We'll do some hands-on forms design in the next article in this series.
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