Labels on forms: Abbreviate or use symbols?

Subject: Labels on forms: Abbreviate or use symbols?
From: Cheryl Magadieu <cmagadieu -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 2010 10:57:35 -0500

My company's usability standards team has a question about the style for
abbreviations and symbols in form labels. Our company's product is online,
and the user interface often uses two-column tables to display forms. The
forms include sections where users enter data such as patient names,
addresses, and phone numbers. Sometimes the form labels are so long that we
can't fit them into the allotted space without abbreviating them or using
symbols. For example, one label is "Patient Account Number." We're debating
whether to abbreviate it as "Patient Account No." or to use the pound
symbol: "Patient Account #". Which usage do you think would be more familiar
to users, both in the U.S. as well as internationally? I checked a few style
guides to see if they provide any guidance, but the only guidance I could
find was to avoid abbreviations whenever possible.

Cheryl
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