Software control terms?

Subject: Software control terms?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Christine Leisgen <Christine -dot- Leisgen -at- gmgcolor -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2007 08:47:26 -0400

Christine Leisgen wonders: <<in the last years, I used general and
short sentences for describing software controls, for example, "click
x". I remember that this usage was recommended for technical writers
some years ago.>>

Yup. It's as clear and concise as you can get. But note that you
_click_ buttons, but _select_ options.

<<I now realized that at least now, Microsoft uses a more "wordy"
explanation of software terms, e. g. "activate the check-box for
options x".>>

Microsoft is not a particularly good source for style advice. They're
outright wrong far more often than I'm comfortable with, they add
nothing insightful to other style guides (which do it better) much of
the time, and they don't give good advice sufficiently often for me
to consider their style guide useful. Some day it would be fun to go
through their guide and develop actual statistics on this; for now,
my take is they're not worth the effort.

Here, for example, they're outright wrong: you don't activate a
checkbox, because so long as the checkbox is visible (not greyed
out), it's active; instead, you activate (or deactivate) the feature
represented by that checkbox. So the better wording is "select the
checkbox" (because that is consistent with the usage of "selection"
everywhere else*), which is equally concise, or "activate feature X
by clicking in the checkbox beside it", which is longer, but clearer.

* Selection changes the visual appearance of the object being
selected. Here, the change is accomplished by adding or removing a
checkmark; in text, it's accomplished by drawing a selection box
(usually background shading) around the selected text.

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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software control terms: From: Christine Leisgen

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