This week I had an email exchange with a long-time customer of mine. He'd used CanTax® since 1989, Profile® since 1998, and is now getting ready to make the switch to TaxCycle.
He asked about a particular feature, and described his process for completing returns. He starts by making a checklist of all the forms required for a particular client, and then works through the forms from beginning to end, in sequence.
This reminded me of some of the early work Henry Zimmer and I did at CanTax. We designed the entire user interface for completing returns around a checklist, which we called the "Index of Information Required." (I'm not sure why we gave it such a lengthy title when "Checklist" would be more concise!) In 1991, the Index of Information Required looked like this:
This design was inspired by the way Henry worked. For any project, he made a list of tasks on a pad of paper. Then we worked through each item, ticking them off as we went. Why would preparing a tax return be any different?
You can see the index contained a complete list of the forms available in 1991, and a Yes/No selection to the right of each form. At the bottom of the screen, you'll note the shortcut keys. This design gave tax preparers two ways to prepare their returns:
- In the traditional "checklist" approach, preparers move through the checklist, selecting each form by pressing the Spacebar. When the checklist is complete, you pressed F7 to start at the first form and work on each of the selected forms in turn.
- In the "ad-hoc" approach, you found the form you wanted, then pressed F6. The form was automatically selected in checklist, then presented on the screen so you could start data entry. When the form was complete, you returned to the Index of Information Required using the Esc key, then selected the next form in turn until the return was complete.
It was a simple and efficient system. Our professional tax preparers loved it. It worked very well when everything was done with a keyboard.
In 1997, when we designed ProFile, we abandoned the "checklist" concept and moved exclusively to a one-size-fits-all approach we called the "Form Explorer". It was loosely based on the way Windows 95 managed files. We added some basic search capabilities, support for keywords and finding forms by category. However, we didn't focus as much on using the keyboard, since everyone now had a mouse.
In 2001, based on feedback we received from customers switching over from CanTax, we added a checkbox to the Form Explorer to simulate what we'd done with the old "Index of Information Required". It seemed that some of our diehard keyboard users preferred the old system. The result looked like this:
We also added the "Step" column on the right to suggest the order in which all the slips should be entered.
When designed TaxCycle in 2011, we couldn't create a single user interface that was both great search tool and a great checklist. I'm going to focus on the Prepare sidebar as forms checklist, because Elizabeth has already written about searching in TaxCycle.
To use the checklist (available in TaxCycle 2.0** and later), start by enabling it. On the File menu, click Options, then click General on the left side of the dialog box. Now, scroll down a little until you see the Sidebar heading:
Once you've done that, the Prepare forms list now works as a checklist as you can see below:
We've also resurrected some of the same keystrokes we used in the CanTax days:
F7 opens the checklist.
The Up Arrow and Down Arrow move through the list
The Spacebar checks a box
The Left Arrow key closes a category (ie: SLIPS or IDENTIFICATION)
The Right Arrow key open a category
F6 or Enter open the highlighted form and checks the box
Esc moves the keyboard focus from the checklist to the currently-open form
Ctrl+Page Down moves to the next checked form
Ctrl+Page Up moves to the previous 'ticked' form
We hope that this checklist approach will be useful for those preparers that approach their tax returns as Henry does, and also for those that prefer a keyboard over a mouse.
** TaxCycle 2.0 is currently in Beta, and will be available later this fall.
ProFile is a registered trademark of Intuit Canada Ltd. Dr. TaxPrep and CanTax are registered trademarks of CCH Canadian Limited.