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Messages: UI Text Guidelines 

Content and Presentation

Terminology

Capitalization and Punctuation

Standard Message Phrasing

Content and Presentation

Use messages to report those conditions that require special consideration or affect the user’s ability to complete the action.

  • Avoid combining more than two or three issues in a single message. For example, if a file cannot be opened for several reasons, provide a separate message for each reason.
  • Put the program name in the title bar of the message box to identify the source of the message. Do not use the words warning, caution, or error in a message-box title bar.
  • State the problem, its probable cause (if known), and what the user can do about it, no matter how obvious the solution. Try to include enough information so that an advanced user or technical support person can quickly diagnose and solve the problem.

    Correct Incorrect

    There is not enough disk space to save this file. Free additional space on this disk, or save the file to a different disk.

    Insufficient disk space

  • Provide only as much background information as is necessary for the user to understand the message.
  • Avoid multi-step solutions. After a message closes, users have difficulty remembering more than two or three simple steps.
  • Present solution steps in the order in which they should be completed.

    Correct Incorrect

    Remove the floppy disk, and then shut down the computer.

    Shut down the computer after you remove the floppy disk.

  • If the product will be localized, do not include company or technical-support phone numbers or other country-specific information.
  • Replace general system-supplied messages, such as MS-DOS extended messages, with your own specific messages where possible.
  • Use generic confirmation messages, such as "Do you want to continue...," judiciously. A more useful alternative is to describe the result of this choice.

Terminology

The terminology used in messages should be consistent with the rest of the program interface.

  • Avoid contractions in technical messages. They can slow down comprehension.
  • Avoid technical terms and system-oriented information, unless you are certain that your users understand them.
  • Avoid "please" except in situations where the user is asked to do something inconvenient or the software is to blame for the situation—for example, "Please wait while Windows copies the files to your computer."
  • Avoid the word error, which the user could misinterpret to mean user error.
  • Avoid phrasing that blames the user or implies user error. Passive voice can be appropriate in messages to achieve this purpose.

    Correct Incorrect

    The password is incorrect. Please type the correct password.

    You typed an incorrect password.

  • Do not anthropomorphize; that is, do not imply that programs or hardware can think, speak, or feel.

    Correct Incorrect

    The node cannot use any of the available protocols.

    The node does not speak any of the available protocols.

Capitalization and Punctuation

Use standard capitalization and punctuation in messages. For more information, see Capitalization.

  • Use complete sentences with ending punctuation. For example, say "Windows cannot find the configuration file." instead of "Cannot find the configuration file."
  • In the message, use sentence caps.
  • In the message title bar, use title caps.
  • Don't use quotation marks to refer to a specific control label. If the control label includes end punctuation such as a colon, don't include the colon in the reference. Refer to the control by name or by using the following format:
    <control label text> <type of control>

    Correct Incorrect

    Select the Dependent on the following projects check box, and then click OK.

    Select the Dependent on the following projects: check box, and then click OK.

    In the Speed of light text box,...

    In the text box labeled "Speed of light,"...

Standard Message Phrasing

Use consistent phrasing for messages that occur repeatedly in your products. Even slight variations create additional work for localizers, especially if they are using translation tools. Variations can also confuse users, who might think that a different event has occurred. Use the following standard wording for the four common scenarios listed.

Scenario Standard Message

Not enough memory

There is not enough memory to <perform this task>. Save your work, close other programs, and then try again.

Not enough disk space

There is not enough disk space to complete the operation. Free additional space on your hard disk, and then try again.

File not found

<The program> cannot find the file <file name>.

User does not have correct permissions

You do not have the correct permissions to <perform this task>. For more information, contact your system administrator.

See Also

Concepts

Event Logs

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