Re: Terms not to use in Error Messages

Subject: Re: Terms not to use in Error Messages
From: Jan Henning <henning -at- r-l -dot- de>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2003 13:50:25 +0200

I am looking for a comprehensive list of terms that should not be used in
error messages. If any of you have stumbled on such a list on the
Internet, I request you to share the resource location.

For example, it is recommended not use the word 'illegal', the term
'invalid' must be used instead.

I doubt that a list of terms to avoid in error messages will do any good, should it even exist. There are a number of reasons for this belief:

- As Dick already pointed out, simply avoiding a few words may not improve the error message's usefulness to the user - the right attitude is required as well. If that attitude is present, there will be no need for the list.

- I doubt that there are many words that should be avoided in any context. For example, in bookeeping software, you might actually encounter operatrions that might have illegal results (as in: breaking the law of the land). So the word list would, at the very least, need to contain context.

- A word list suggest a simple set of rules without any explanations. If no explanations are given, however, you do not know why you are avoiding a particular word. You may inadvertedly subsitute another equally inappropirate word (that simply happens not to be on the lsit), or you may replace a word in a situation where it is entirely appropriate.

My suggestion would be that you peruse a few works on user interface design (e.g., look for the Human Interface Guidelines on Apple's web pages) and check the relevant sections. This should give you a feeling for the problems involved in phrasing error messages as well as introduce a few techniques.

Jan Henning

Jan Henning
Am Schlossberg 14, D-82547 Eurasburg, Germany

Phone: +49 700 0200 0700, Fax: +49 8179 9307-12
E-Mail: henning -at- r-l -dot- de, Web:


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Terms not to use in Error Messages: From: Seema

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