Three error message style ideas Re: Style guide for error messages?

Subject: Three error message style ideas Re: Style guide for error messages?
From: Loretta Weiss-Morris <loretta -at- panix -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Feb 2003 14:00:32 -0500 (EST)


I can't point you to a style guide for error messages but on my website is
a free archive of hundreds of tips for trainers, all of which have been
contributed by trainers and instructional designers from around the world.
(the home page is and just follow the link
from the home page to "Quick Training Tips")

In the the part of the archive for 1999-2000 is the following Tip, which
offers good advice for anyone creating user-friendly error messages.
Hope you find it helpful:

THREE CRITICAL ELEMENTS. An error message should tell users the steps
needed to recover, not just announce that they've got a problem.

Every error message should include these three pieces of
1. What the user did.
2. Why it wasn't correct.
3. What to do to correct it.

Here's an example of a good error message:

"You entered a start date later than the end date. The
start date must be earlier than the end date. Check the dates and

Here's an example of a poor one:
"Invalid dates."

Tip contributed to the QTT archive by:
Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
Edgar, WI

Best regards,
Loretta Weiss-Morris

On Tue, 4 Feb 2003, Steve Rudman wrote:

> I'm looking for a style guide for error messages (covering text but
> could also be UI/presentation). Thanks in advance for any pointers to
> relevant docs or information.


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