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The First Date - Practices

The words that a user sees on your application's menus and labelsare often as important as the code that drives the application. Using thewrong word, or a term that is ambiguous or hard to understand, can oftenmake the difference between an application that is easy and fun to use, andone that is just plain irritating. This article discusses the importance ofinterface text and offers tips and advice to help you create clear, usableand easily comprehensible text for your application's user interface.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. The Importance Of Interface Text (part 1)
  2. Form Versus Function
  3. The First Date
  4. Cheat Sheet
  5. Matching It All Up
By: Deepa L, (c) Melonfire
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 6
March 19, 2003

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In a software application, just like for code, there are front-end and back-end documentation requirements. Note that when I use the term "documentation", I am referring to all text-based inputs into the application.

The back-end documentation is so-called "facilitating documentation", which is usually never delivered to the user - this would include the requirement specification and the design specification. On the other hand, front-end documentation is developed for the user and includes:
  • Reference documentation like software technical reference manuals
  • Support documentation like user manuals, online help and installation guides
  • Interface text, or the labels that appear on the user interface (which also happens to be the subject of this article)
While each kind of documentation makes its own indispensable contribution to the application, interface text is like the first date that decides whether or not the user would like to take the relationship further. All the brilliant code that has gone into the application is put paid to if the user can't understand what a screen is supposed to do.

Interface text includes:
  • Titles
  • Field and button labels
  • Instructional text
  • Error messages
  • Confirmation messages
It should be noted that the above refers to text seen by a user only. There is, however, usually also a separate text-based deliverable, application messages, which includes the text displayed at the time of installation/configuration, console-based messages, e-mail notifications and reports sent by the application to the administrator. The audience for this deliverable is not usually the non-technical user, but the more savvy administrator, and this interface text is different from the rest in that it requires accurate technical understanding and allows for a greater degree of technical jargon.

 
 
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