Results: "Click" vs. "Press"

Subject: Results: "Click" vs. "Press"
From: Barb Ostapina <Barb -dot- Ostapina -at- METROMAIL -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 1998 16:28:12 -0500

Thought you'd like to know what my tech writing colleagues around the world
had to say about "click" and "press" on HTML help.
(Thought my colleagues would like to see the results, too.) This was my

<<I'm writing my first online help text and I'd sure appreciate your
thoughts on something.
An outside vendor is creating the help itself; I'm just supplying the
words. It's for an intranet directory assistance application done in HTML
that will be used by ordinary citizens like me (as opposed to directory
assistance operators). The vendor has told us that it's more appropriate to
say "Press Search" rather than "Click Search" (referring to a button on the
screen) for HTML help. Do you agree? (I use "click" or "double click" in my
printed documentation when describing what to do with a button or field in
a Windows application, and "press" when referring to a key on the keyboard.
Maybe this is wrong, too?) Is this also true when referring to a tab (e.g.,
a folder like thing with a clickable tab on the top) -- should it be "Press
Residential" (to select the tab for the residential directory search) vs.
"Click the Residential tab"?
barb -dot- ostapina -at- metromail -dot- com >>

Here's what they said:
I use the same conventions you do. Press is for keyboard, Click
is for mouse. I had never heard any question of the appropriateness of
that convention.
Brenda Ruetschi
Alpha Technologies, Inc.
Nope, they're way wrong -- it's CLICK in both instances.
bkane @
This may be a minuscule point, but what are the "terminals" that the
users will be using? If it is a "whiz-kid" advanced technology (like
touch sensitive monitors?) then press would be more accurate to describe
what the user will do. If it a "regular" monitor then I agree with you ,
click/double-click is more appropriate to what the users will do!
Alan Burke
Technical Writer Contractor,
currently at Lucent Technologies, Greensboro, NC
burkes -at- bellsouth -dot- net
CLICK is to press and release a button on a pointing device, like a mouse,
while holding the pointer on the choice you are making. Click or double
click buttons on a screen. You can also SELECT choices on a screen.
PRESS is to press a key on a keyboard.
This is the most common understanding among readers per IBM dictionaries,
etc. Look at the many conventions used in many books! I would suggest your
vendor to really consider the readers and their needs.
Debbie_Stewart @ SIECOR.COM
Hi Barb,
I vote for "click" myself. The only time I'd use "press" instead is if I
knew some of the users would be using keyboard equivalents rather than
mouse clicks to accomplish the action. For example, if someone needed to
use the Tab key to navigate around a dialog box or form, then use whatever
key mapped to a mouse click, I might say "press Search" to encompass both
ways of getting there and activating the button. But unless I was certain
that some of my uses would be doing this, I'd opt for "click" because I
find it more direct and more familiar.
I'd love to hear what you learn, and what you decide...
Good luck,
martha editrix @
As a user who dislikes using a mouse (due to RSI), I'm especially
aware of this terminology. For a typical GUI, keyboard shortcuts are
available for most actions. I'm not sure this is true in your case.

I use "select" in most cases for interface controls. If clicking or
double-clicking is the only reasonable way to perform an action, I use
"click" or "double-click." I tell users when they need to "press" a
key--again when that is the only reasonable way to perform an action.
In most cases, I cannot predict the state of the interface when the
user enters it, so I avoid telling them to select something when I
really want them to make sure it is selected--it might be selected
already. Again, this might not apply in your case.

If I was writing for users who were not expected to be PC literate, I
would include a section on using the interface, where I would explain
all these details, then I'd follow the conventions I described
earlier. If I had question about users performing successfully, I'd
write a few test procedures, sit down with some users, and see what
worked for them.

Is summary, I don't agree with your vendor. "Press" is not an
accurate usage. But, "click" might not be the best choice, either.
Regards, Virginia Virginia_Day @ DATACARD.COM
You said this is for an intranet directory assistance operation. Does
that mean the instruction is for using a telephone? If the person is
going to use a search feature on a phone, I'd certainly say Press
(because it's a real, touchable button). If it's a touch screen button,
I'd prefer Touch, but if it's on the screen as part of the software, and
you'd access it with the mouse, then Click would be better.
Beth Agnew
Senior Technical Writer, InSystems Technologies Inc.
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 9X1
>>> I think you should tell him to go back to his typewriter and leave
you alone. I hate it when people design pages with "Press" this or
that. I don't like having to wipe the fingerprints off my screen!
(I use "click" or "double click" ...
>>> Um, that should be hyphenated. :o)
John Wilcox, Documentation Specialist
Timberlands Information Services, Application Delivery Group
Tacoma, WA 98477-2999 USA
While this doesn't quite pass my personal litmus test (will doing it
wrong keep the user from understanding what I'm trying to say?), I would
venture to say that clicking makes more sense. Though, if you'd asked me
6 months ago, I think you would have gotten the other answer. The
solution: pick one (probably whichever has been used more in existing
text), and then use it consistently. Put it into your style guide, and
then tell the person coding the OLH that it's your company's style to say
whichever one you chose. That should settle it.
-David Castro
techwrtr -at- crl -dot- com
I click or double-click my mouse to select onscreen items. I press keyboard
keys. The confusing one is when I click the mouse to press an onscreen key.
But, since I'm not working with a touchscreen, I still feel that clicking
is the action I take and that's the word I use.
Jill Burgchardt
jburgcha -at- pestilence -dot- itc -dot- nrcs -dot- usda -dot- gov
No, I don't agree. The user clicks interface elements (not "clicks on").
User press keys on the keyboard (they don't "hit" keys).
Tell your vendor to purchase a copy of the Microsoft Manual of Style.
Chuck Martin, Technical Writer
Evolve Software | Personal
chuckm -at- evolvesoftware -dot- com | writer -at- best -dot- com
FWIW, we use "click" & "double-click" to indicate buttons,
links, etc. that are on the screen, and "press" for keys on a
keyboard that the user can physically press. For tabs, we
usually say "select the XYZ tab," so that the user isn't
looking somewhere for a button. This was just what seemed
logical to the gov't's Doc. Stds. Committee, and not
necessarily based on research or industry standards (if there
are any).
I don't have vast experience with online help, but this issue applies to
all forms of docs, and you are absolutely correct. You can't 'press' a
button on the screen (unless it's a touch screen kiosk), so why confuse
the reader? Generally, I stick to 'clicking/double clicking'
buttons/tabs/whatever on the screen, and 'pressing' a key on the
llittle @ GSALINK.COM
There you have it! I'm sticking with my vote for "click" vs. "press" but
you're the one who gets the final vote. Let me know what you prefer.

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