Upload/download terminology?

Subject: Upload/download terminology?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 08 Jun 2004 09:43:56 -0400

Sandy Sledge reports: <<I'm trying to write some user documentation about uploading/downloading data from an application server to a handheld computer. In a small sampling of usability testing, the users were confused as to upload/download...>>

The Dogbert in me suggests that you need to find smarter users. <g> That not being an option:

<<We have decided to NOT use upload/download because of the confusion.>>

Good choice, and thanks for the data points. It's interesting to learn or be reminded that these terms really aren't clear to most computer users. It's also a good lesson in learning to think in the same terms as your audience. Although you can try defining these terms on their first mention, it's rarely a good idea to force users to learn new terminology just so they can use your product. I agree that people should be eager to learn new things, but the sad fact is that most people aren't, and won't make this effort.

<<So then we thought of import/export, but that requires having to know the initiating system... users are confused as to what is the "real" initiating system.>>

It sounds like you're working directly with a group of users, which is great. Why not ask them to pick words to describe what they're doing? (Keep a thesaurus on hand to help if they're unable to come up with words on their own.) If they all pick the same one or two choices, then you have your terminology defined for you. If there are several choices, ask them to evaluate each of the leading contenders: it's likely that _all_ will agree that they easily understand at least one choice, even if it isn't their first choice. Use that wording.

If this kind of approach isn't an option, or proves unproductive for various reasons, keep in mind an axiom of translation (and of editing): If the one perfect word doesn't exist, use a concise but crystal-clear description instead. ("Transfer from A to B" is always clearer than "upload" because the latter still requires you to define, explicitly or from context, the source of the transfer. The destination then becomes clear.)

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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