Clear Input Fields and Force Users to Enter New Data. Reducing Errors Series – Article #3

Summary

We have all done it. In a hurry, we rush through our work and forget to double check, update the correct information, or notice that something is wrong or out of place. The consequences, of course, make us bitterly regret that brief second or two of time we save.

When filling out data in labeling software form before launching a print job, it is critical that precise information such as lot number, expiration date, perhaps even the product ID are dilligently and accurately updated. Often label design software will be configured to default to the field to the last entered value. Or, for something like a serial number, it may remember the last number used and automatically increment to the next value.

The designer of the label may think this is helping the user. Why force the user to enter the part number when it is likely the same as the last label job? If the label design provides the user with the next number in a series, does that save time and reduce the chance for error?

Why Clear Variables?

The hidden danger in having the software 'guess' what the user will want to enter next is the fact that sometimes the print user will need to enter a different value. In other words, we are depending on the user to remember to change it when the part number changes or when the serial number needs to be reprinted (and the serial number resets back afterwards).

Ironically, the more useful the default value (i.e. the most often the user does not need to pay attention to it when printing) the more likely the user will ignore it when a change needs to be made. It just becomes habit for the user to skip the field.

The case of the serial number is particularly problematic. If the user needs to reprint an old label, they actually need to remember to reset the serial number default value TWICE. First to get the desired label. Then again, later, to get back to the correct 'next number'.

Although it may seem counter intuitive, often the best practice is to clear all the values and force the user to enter each one each time a print job is generated. Theoretically, that opens the door to more typos, but if you see my other articles on reducing entry errors, there are steps that can be done to reduce that risk. Typically the risk of rushing through and forgetting to update a field with data is greater than making the typo.

Clearing Fields / Restoring Values Feature

Most labeling design software applications will either allow the designer to either enable a 'clear field(s) after printing' feature. If not, they typically allow the designer to set a default value for the field in the form. In the latter case, that default value can usually be set to null or 'blank'. Both approaches have the same effect. This is to clear the field after printing so, on the next print, the user is forced to enter new data.

Clearing fields after printing is most useful when:

Label data is not determined by the label design - if key fields like serial number, lot number, etc. are dictated by another system (ERP, MRP, etc.), it is best to force the user to enter them fresh each time. These numbers are hard for the user to predict.

Label data is assigned by the label design but requires the user to change it for reprints - the label design software may not have the ability to print reprint labels from label history or cannot control the user's access to change data assigned by the user (e.g. not using features / applications like LABEL ARCHIVE by TEKLYNX and BarTender History Explorer / Librarian by Seagull Scientific). If not, the user is then forced to make new label but change the data settings. When a setting like a serial number is assigned by the label and the user needs to roll it back to reprint a label, they are burdened with having to remember to reset it back to the correct value AFTER the reprint label job.

Labels themselves and label data look similar between print jobs - if the lot numbers look very similar (i.e. same number of digits, similar pattern of alpha / numeric characters), it will be easy to overlook mistakes.

For information about clearing fields in CODESOFT, you can access the Efficient Business Integrators knowledge base article Clear Values or Reset / Restore Values in the Data Entry Form – CODESOFT Instruction Article

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