Make Your Language Clear

When writing instructions for your users, it's important that the messaging is clear. Here's a quick example when adding a user as a contact on Flickr:

form messaging that says 'Mark as a friend'

When I first read this I thought to myself, "Who's Mark? I'm not adding Mark as a contact." It took me a couple seconds to realize that mark was a verb and not a noun. Including the contact's actual name as in, "Mark John Smith as a friend?" would have made it more obvious. Although, I think it'd be even clearer if it just said "Is John Smith a friend?"

Published February 16, 2006 · Updated February 16, 2006
Categorized as Usability
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5 Comments · RSS feed
Zach said on February 16, 2006

Make maybe? Identify? Label?

Stephen O'Connor said on February 16, 2006

Would you also like to...

Add X as a friend.

Add X as family.

X=User or whatever

Make sense?

Taylor Hughes said on February 18, 2006

I'm not a huge fan of those question marks, either. Makes Flickr seem unsure about the decision :)

P.J. Onori said on February 23, 2006

Very good point - I've completely overlooked this the many times I've run into this screen on Flickr.

It really goes to show you how much the narrative of websites play into usability.

Rick Gutleber said on November 28, 2006

It's this "Tonto-speak" pidgin English that people seem to think they should use whenever writing instructions to be displayed on screen.

Historically, there was a reason for it, in the 80x25 DOS days, you were often very limited in what you could fit in a certain text area, and even in the days of Windows or other GUIs on 640x480. Nowadays though resolutions are much higher and we have enough room that we don't need to speak like every sentence should end with ", Kemosabe."

In a word of IM and web pages with 2 paragraph articles where it seems many people don't even read books any more, I think it is no less important that we always communicate in complete sentences. Sure, it takes a little longer, but the improved communication is worth it.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.