seeking advice on the best way to phrase an error message

Subject: seeking advice on the best way to phrase an error message
From: Tracy Taylor <ipsque -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2007 16:41:49 -0700 (PDT)

Hiya -

I'm trying to find the best way to phrase a specific error message in a common situation. Basically, the application has a form that the user needs to enter, and let's say he or she leaves a field empty - in this case, it's Phone Number.

I've read up quite a bit on error messages, and know not to use an accusatory tone, to keep them concise, to explain the error and how to recover from it. But it seems to me that this very common situation, where a user leaves a field empty, someone must have already come up with the perfect error message.

Current error message in the app I'm working in is: "Phone Number is required and must have a value." It's not the worst way to say it, especially for a system generated error message, but I'm wondering if there is a better way.

Here's what Amazon said in a similar situation:
"Important Messages

There is a slight problem with your order. (See below.)

You didn't enter a phone number. Please enter your full phone number below."

This isn't bad, but it's very wordy. Also, though the words "slight problem" aren't so bad, "You didn't enter a phone number" is a little blamey.

I was going to suggest "Phone Number is required. Please enter a Phone Number." Not the most concise thing in the world, but polite, explains the error and what to do about it.

But I was wondering if the group has any better advice? Thanks, Tracy


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