I draw boxesA blog on user experience & design

June 12, 2008

Yes/no questions: dropdown, radio buttons or checkbox?

Today I came across a dropdown menu in a web form for a yes/no question, and it didn’t sit well with me. Far too much for the user to think about when making their choice.

To enable the user to express a preference in this way you could use:

  • Radio buttons
  • A checkbox
  • A dropdown menu

After googling around I found this interesting discussion and poll on the Isocra consulting blog.

I’d definitely go for radio buttons every time. The priority has to be ease of understanding and speed of cognition for the user.

I’d definitely go for radio buttons every time. The priority has to be ease of understanding and speed of cognition for the user

Nielsen has written that users dislike dropdown menus in general, and I’m inclined to agree – particularly in this case. The user has to consider what the box is asking them, note the ‘please select’ instruction, then [click], consider the options, make a decision, then [click].

A checkbox is technically the correct choice of interface element (it was designed to allow the user to select ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to something). But the supporting copy must be worded perfectly to make it clear to the user what they have selected. Confusing labels are increasingly common in this area, for example “Check this box if you DO NOT want to receive email updates”. So you’re making a positive selection when you’re actually saying ‘no’ to something. Hmm.

So I’d go for radio buttons because:

  • The user can quickly scan both the question and possible answers in one go
  • It is immediately obvious to them that they have 2 options, ‘yes’ or ‘no’
  • They only have to click once to make their simple choice
  • The user is forced to make a choice one way or the other (if neither radio button are initially selected)

4 Comments »

  1. Today I noticed while doing my tax return online that the UK Revenue and Customs website repeatedly uses dropdowns for the yes/no user options on your tax return. It was quite annoying have to use so many dropdowns on each page!

    Comment by Chris — June 15, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

  2. For mobile touch devices I think drop-down menus are better because it can use the native menu system and then use the native next button to move to the next field. The option text need be short.

    Comment by Anthony — July 19, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  3. This article is from 2008 – 1 year after the iPhone was first launched so touch interfaces are not mentioned. For touch interfaces I would use the binary on/off control switch pattern featured on the iPhone OS. Android uses the method you describe above but I prefer the Apple approach both for visibility and ease of use. If you view this site on an iPhone or Android device you will see a toggle switch at the foot of the page for choosing between desktop and mobile view.

    Comment by Chris — July 19, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

  4. Hi,
    I want to create a web application with numerous yes/no questions, but I would like the users to be able to leave such a question blank, so that I can remember them, later on, that they have to come back to that specific question to enter an answer. The problem with radio buttons is that the user cannot reset it to ‘not answered yet’ and then be remembered later to get back to it…

    If they answered (either ‘yes’ or ‘no’) and then change their mind and wish to answer it later, there is no way for them to leave it blank.

    I thought of using two exclusive checkboxes (one ‘yes’ and one ‘no’) that I would validate manually.

    Or should I rather be putting a ‘reset this question’ button for each of these questions?

    Is there another solution?

    Thank you

    Comment by Eric — December 17, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

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