Naming tabs in dialog boxes?

Subject: Naming tabs in dialog boxes?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1999 15:48:55 -0500

Andy Kubrin wondered <<How do you (does one) refer to individual
tabs of a dialog? For example, do you write "Paragraph Designer
dialog, Basic tab"? "Paragraph Designer (Basic)"? Some other

I use the same approach I use with menus and the choices
thereunder, since menus and tabbed dialog boxes are conceptually
identical: in both, you open one thing to display a pick list of
options. On that basis, I always write "In the X dialog box, select
the Y tab and..." or something similar adjusted to fit the context
(e.g., Open X to get to Y, in the X menu, pick Y, and in the dialog
box, select Z, etc.). I'm not keen on using typographic cues such
as "File-->Save as" (or the arrow replaced with an em dash),
because previous discussions on techwr-l and my own gut feeling
suggest this is too cryptic for some readers. (Your audience may

In the tabbed applications I've documented thus far, I actually
added a small topic in the printed manual to explain how the tabs
work. Some usability test results I've seen (probably from Jared
Spool's gang of usability commandos, but it might have been Jakob
Nielsen) suggested that users frequently misunderstand the tab
metaphor. A typical question might be "when I click the Cancel
button, does this apply only to the current tab, or to all tabs I've
worked with while the dialog box was open?" The companion
question is "when I change to a new tab, are my changes on the
current tab saved, or do I have to click OK first?" (The answer is
rarely obvious, particularly since different applications behave
differently, and I've yet to encounter a tabbed application that
provides direct feedback on what it's doing so you know which
alternative the programmer used.)

Long answer to a short question!

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein

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