REDCap Online Designer Basics

Designing Data Tools

……..Online Designer


Online Designer

The Online Designer is the primary tool with which you will design your data forms. Assuming that you started with an empty project (started without using a template), you will see one default form already present in your Online Designer, entitled “My First Instrument.” You may rename this form by clicking the “Rename” button on the right. To begin editing, click on the instrument name.

First Instrument

By default, your first form will have only one field, entitled “Record ID.” This indicates the unique record/participant identifier, and must be preserved. You may change the name of the field by clicking the Edit icon (the yellow pencil). However, whatever you decide to call it (“Participant ID,” “Study ID,” etc.), its purpose as a unique identifier must remain the same. This field does not need to be repeated for any other data forms throughout the project; this is the only place you will need to be concerned with it.

First Record

You may click the “Preview Instrument” button to preview what your form will look like during actual data entry. Calculated fields and branching logic will not work in this preview; practice data must be entered in records in order to test those particular functions

…….…..Adding a new field

To create a new data field, click the “Add Field” button. There are twelve types of fields you may choose from. Our example in this section will use the “Text Box” field type (essentially a “short answer” field), one of the most common field types in REDCap data entry. The general “new field” addition process is very similar across field types – however, other types may have additional features or nuances associated with them, which is discussed in detail in the Field types section

New Field

If you are designing a survey, the Field Label will generally be a question, such as “How old are you?” If you are designing a research data entry form, your Field Label may look more like a standard label, such as “Baseline heart rate:”.

The Variable Name is used by REDCap to store the data. We strongly advise against enabling auto-naming for variables (the check-box to the right of the Variable Name field). You generally want to keep variable names short but somewhat descriptive, so that if you need to export your data, you will be able to recognize key variables. For instance, “Q1” is not a very descriptive variable name, and is not advised for most situations. “Height” is a good variable name, but “height_in” or “height_cm” is even better, because you are reiterating your measurement unit within the variable name, which is a good practice.

Validation is an extended option which is discussed in detail in the Data validation section.

The Required option, by default, is set to “no.” If changed to “yes,” it will require an answer before a data form can be saved (or before a survey can be submitted, depending on your study set-up).

The Identifier option should be marked whenever a field asks for one of the 18 HIPAA identifiers. When you export or view deidentified data, the fields that were marked as identifiers will be omitted. A concise list of the 18 HIPAA identifiers is listed below, but for an official list and supporting details, see Box 2 on this page from the CDC website:

A brief reminder of the 18 HIPAA identifiers: 1.) names, 2.) geography more specific than state, 3.) any relevant dates more specific than year, 4.) phone numbers, 5.) fax numbers, 6.) e-mail addresses, 7.) SSNs, 8.) MRNs, 9.) health plan beneficiary numbers, 10.) account numbers, 11.) certificate/license numbers, 12.) vehicle identifiers, 13.) device identifiers, 14.) URLs, 15.) IP addresses, 16.) biometric identifiers, 17.) full-face photographic images, and 18.) any other unique identifying number, code, or characteristic.

The Custom Alignment option changes how the question (and answers, if the field is a multiple choice option) appears in the data entry screen. We don’t recommend adjusting this unless there is an aesthetic need to do so, but you may play around with the functionality as you explore REDCap’s features.

The Field Note option displays a side-note in small text beneath the text entry field (or multiple choice options) on the data entry screen. It is useful for designating units or clarifying a manner in which the question should be answered (e.g. “Mark all that apply”).

The end result of the field creation in this example looks like this:

Text Box

The Choices component of field creation is specifically for multiple choice field types (drop-down list, radio buttons, and check-boxes). It appears directly below the Field Label and serves as the place for you to list the various choices to select from, one choice per line. REDCap automatically “codes” these variables in increasing order beginning with “1.” This is for data storage purposes, and will not affect the way the choices are viewed in data entry. Below is the screen that will be prompted if you have not provided manual codes for your choices:

Raw Value


Generally, it is acceptable to have REDCap provide the automated coded values for your multiple choice options, but there may be instances in which you should manually enter or change the coded values. For instance, let’s say you are writing a survey question inquiring about the frequency of a participant’s consumption of fast food, and let’s say you have decided your choices are “Never,” “Once per month or less,” “Two to five times per month,” and “More than once a week.” Since this is a scale with an absolute zero, coding “Never” as 0 and moving upward from there (rather than beginning at 1) is a wise decision.

If you have many forms, it can be helpful to add a prefix to your field variable names that indicates which form they are on. For instance, a variable representing age in years on your Demographics form might be labeled “dm_age_yrs.”

We strongly advise against numbering your fields within the field label (e.g. “1. How old are you?”). Any branching logic or future decisions to move/delete fields will drop or mix numbers, causing unnecessary work later. The REDCap survey option features auto-numbering and custom numbering abilities, which should be used instead (toward the end of project design).

…….…..Field types

There are twelve types of fields you may choose from: Text Box, Notes Box, Calculated Field, Multiple Choice – Drop-down List, Multiple Choice – Radio Buttons, Check-boxes, Yes-No, True-False, Slider, File Upload, Descriptive Text, and Begin New Section.

1.) Text Box: a single-line text box for text and numbers. The example in the Adding a new field section is a text box.

Text Box

2.) Notes Box: a large text box for a large amount of text. This is convenient for long descriptions and “Additional Comments” boxes.

Note Box

3.) Calculated Field: a field which performs real-time calculations based on the entries in other fields. The syntax for complicated calculations can be intricate, but REDCap will alert you to any syntax errors, and will refuse to attempt calculations until they are resolved, preventing data errors. Variable names are referred to in [brackets] in the written calculation equation.


In this example, weight_lbs and height_in are two variables from previous questions being utilized to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI). Clicking the “How do I format the equation?” hyperlink will open a dialog box describing some of the nuances and specifications of the calculation syntax, such as the rounding function used in this example.

Calculation Fileds

In data entry, it is impossible to directly edit the value of a calculated field (hence the red text). This ensures the integrity of the calculation procedure.

4.) Multiple Choice – Drop-down List: a drop-down menu with options. Only one option can be selected. This can help save space on a data form if there are many different choices to display.

Drop Down

5.) Multiple Choice – Radio Buttons: a set of radio buttons (round buttons), from which only one choice can be selected at a time. The “reset” button in the corner removes any current selection and returns the field to a null (absent) value.

Radio Buttons

6.) Check-boxes: check-boxes which allow the selection of multiple options if desired.


7.) Yes-No: radio buttons with the options “Yes” and “No.” These values are automatically coded: “Yes” = 1, “No” = 0.


8.) True-False: radio buttons with the options “True” and “False.” These values are automatically coded: “True” = 1, “False” = 0.


9.) Slider: visual analogue scale coded as values 0-100. You may provide labels above the left, middle, and right sides of the slider.


10.) File Upload: an uploading tool for any associated images or documents that may need to be attached to individual records.


11.) Descriptive Text: text displayed with optional image/file attachment. The file may be displayed as a clickable (downloadable) link, or (if the file is an image) displayed in-line with the text.


12.) Begin New Section: a field composed of a single line appearing in different color from the rest of your form, indicating separation. This is largely for aesthetic/organization purposes. Adding text (to serve as a header) is optional. When deploying a survey, you have the option to break each section into separate pages, giving these headers a true separation functionality.

New Field

[TIPS AND TRICKS]: In your data entry screens (not including the survey submission screen), there is a small “H” and speech bubble appearing beside each field. The “H” tracks the history of all recorded data values for that particular variable. The speech bubble is the Field Comment Log, which allows users to make comments on particular fields, and lights up when a comment exists for a field.