Q from MA

Why, in online personal information forms, is the state (or province) almost always in a pull-down menu? Why not have people type in the state, and correct them when they type in more or less than two letters?

For most of the form you can enter everything without leaving the keyboard. But the state or provice entry almost always requires a mouse. Why? Is it that hard to type two letters?

These days most browsers do a good job of auto-filling the blanks in any case.

Anyway, it’s a small quibble that’s irritated me for years, and I feel like sharing my feelings about it. Finally, I hope.


  1. Paul’s avatar

    how about this

    i live in a country that has no states, and sometimes you forced to put in a state to get thru the registration process…

    my personal pet peeve though, is those websites that default to the US in the country list….

  2. Dan’s avatar

    I will raise you one further… why even have the state? Shouldn’t the zipcode be enough to determine the state (and city)? An ideal address form should be two fields: 1. street/PO Box 2. zipcode.

    It is amazing that after all these years no one has ever implemented it.

  3. ThoughtFix’s avatar

    I always just start typing. In most forms it gets me to the first letter and in the rest it “just works.” Still – You’re right. Why don’t many forms auto-fill the city and state with the zip code? That’s the easiest database ever!

  4. MikeHollatz’s avatar

    Every state pull down field I’ve seen allows you to type the first letter of the state to make the selection.

  5. Michael Flanagan’s avatar

    You can use the keyboard for drop-down lists too. Tab to the list, down/up arrows for scrolling. Or – in most cases – just start typing and the selected item will change to suit the keys you press.

    Fancy in-line validation and auto-completion is better obviously (because it’s fancy) but really, there’s no need to go to the mouse for drop-downs in most cases.

  6. Hanna Cohen’s avatar

    You don’t need to use the mouse. TAB to the list and type the first letter of the item you need to choose. Then you can use the up (and down) arrow keys to move to the right place on the list. Then TAB to move to the next form input.

  7. PXLated’s avatar

    Yes, it’s irritated me forever. Try arguing it with a client, they seem to insist and you finally just give up.

  8. Matt V’s avatar

    I usually type in the first letter of the state and then arrow down to the correct state.

  9. Geoff’s avatar

    Think yourselves lucky that Country=USA is always the first choice. If you happen to be in the UK you can never find it! Can be UK, GB, England sorted alphabetically or just floating around in the list.

  10. AEP528’s avatar

    For that matter, why do US companies require anything other than a street address and zip code? City and state are defined by the zip code, so isn’t that a little redundant? If you choose country first, then it should automatically disable the city and state fields if the country choice is US.

  11. Ted Roche’s avatar

    Q from MA or from Mac? You can’t tab into dropdowns on OS X, but can in Windows and most *nixes. I know it’s four taps of the ‘N’ key to get to ‘New Hampshire,’ unless they’ve included New Brunswick.

    As a data application developer, I’ll tell you that people can’t remember which M state is Mass, Missouri, Montana or Mississippi. And which is ME? None of the above. A dropdown restricts creative typists from creating new states (though developers need to remember VI, GU and PR, often forgotten).

    A far smarter system asks for your ZIP first and works it out from there.

  12. Don Marti’s avatar

    Make it validate back to the server for state/province abbreviations in the user’s chosen country, and you can put “AJAX” on your resume.

  13. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    What Hanna said, only I hit the first letter of the item 6 times … because I live in NY. But wouldn’t it be better to ask for the zip code first, and then ajax in the town and state?

  14. Michael Flanagan’s avatar

    Regarding the “just use a zip code” idea.. fine, if you’ve selected the US as your home country, but also *please* remember that not every country has a zip or postal code. In Ireland we’ve got neither and it’s very often a required field.

    Bizarrely, even Irish websites have been known to get this wrong.

  15. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Good points all. Mostly I was kvetching. What I’d prefer is an easy-to-do selective disclosure system that’s in my control and fills any form with one click; or wouldn’t even require a form.

    Most of the sites requiring forms only need a fraction of what they’re asking for in any case.

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