Writing error messages

Subject: Writing error messages
From: "Less is more." <yvonne -at- SATURN -dot- SMARTSTAR -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 1994 08:58:05 -0700

Tina Sansom writes:
>Thought I'd throw my oar in here. I write error messages, because the
>programmers aren't allowed to! What a deal. They write cryptic little codes
>which refer to specific error contitions in specific places in the application,
>and I cross-reference the codes to a file full of error message text that I
>write and own. It's been great, because lots of people come to me with
>suggestions and ideas and thoughts, who don't like to write. I can take it
>all in, but I own the message file as if it were one of my own documents.

I agree that this is the way it should work if possible. We have a database
that stores the message codes, text, and descriptions for the online and
printed information about the errors.

The programmers discuss message wording with me and I rewrite them as needed.
Then I write the detailed information for the manuals. Since the files used
in the product, online help, and documentation get built from this application,
I can change things even at the last minute. (Well, the next-to-last day

A couple things I've found:

Our messages can include context-based information, like the line the error
is on or the object that caused the error. Our programmers seem to like to
omit these things -- they require a bit more work. I have to encourage them
to include the bits that make errors useful by knowing enough about the
internals of the product to know what information they can probably include.

I have to watch the message codes in addition to the message text. One
programmer tried to get away with a message code of:

SQL-W-DICTOOLONG, Dictionary name cannot be longer than 31 characters.

Yvonne DeGraw
yvonne -at- smartstar -dot- com
SmartStar Corp
Santa Barbara, CA

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