What do we call this button?

Subject: What do we call this button?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Newman, Sarah'" <snewman -at- bechtel -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 15:24:44 -0400

Sarah Newman needs a button name: <<The program we're documenting has
numerous fields where you can directly
enter a value or you can select one from a list. To get to the list, you
click a button to the right of the field with an ellipsis (...) on it. This
brings up a separate dialog box with the list and an OK button. We have been
referring to this as the ellipsis (...) button...>>

The problem with this approach is that it imposes a large burden on the
reader: how many non-technical communicators could tell you what an ellipsis
is (and thus, which button to look for) without consulting a dictionary? How
many would bother to consult the dictionary? Answer to both: "not many".
Defining the button name and using it consistenly thereafter seems sensible,
but it places another large burden on the reader: having to memorize the
names of dozens of buttons before they can use the software productively.
(You'll also have to create an easily accessible and impossible to miss
visual glossary somewhere so readers can look up all the icons that confront
them.) And what name do you pick for the button "that looks like a piebald
octopus with three arms on one side, four on the other, and one underneath
clutching what might be a sword or could be an exclamation mark or maybe a |
character"? Not to mention how you'd distinguish it from its companion
button which looks exactly the same, only reversed left to right. You don't
even want to think about naming that sucker. <g>

So what _is_ the solution? Use a screenshot of the button. This removes all
the cognitive load on the reader by presenting an image that exactly
resembles what they're going to see and seek on the screen. You also avoid
having to define things, edit rigorously to make the naming consistent
throughout a 1000-page manual, and provide a central repository for the
definitions that forgetful readers can consult when they consult the manual
for the one time per year they actually open it.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy."--Goethe

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