Using ellipsis in menu, context menus or buttons

15 Feb 2010 - 5:28am
4 years ago
6 replies
2636 reads
sysscore
2007

i have a question about when i should use ellipsis for commands in
menus, contextual menus and buttons in desktop applications (in
Java).

Sadly, the guidelines of microsoft and mac osx are different about
this topic.
I have found some interesting links in the web but nothing could
answer my questions...

****

Microsoft writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when:

"Proper use of ellipses is important to indicate that users can make
further choices before performing the action, or even cancel the
action entirely. The visual cue offered by an ellipsis allows users
to explore your software without fear.

This doesn't mean you should use an ellipsis whenever an action
displays another window—only when additional information is required
to perform the action. For example, the commands About, Advanced,
Help, Options, Properties, and Settings must display another window
when clicked, but don't require additional information from the
user. Therefore they don't need ellipses.

In case of ambiguity (for example, the command label lacks a verb),
decide based on the most likely user action. If simply viewing the
window is a common action, don't use an ellipsis."

***

Macintosh writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when the action:

Is performed by the user in a separate window or dialog.

For example, Preferences, Customize Toolbar, and Send Feedback all
use an ellipsis because they open a window (potentially in another
application, such as a browser) or a dialog in which the user sets
preferences, customizes the toolbar, or sends feedback.

To see why such commands must include an ellipsis, consider that the
absence of an ellipsis implies that the application performs the
action for the user. If, for example, the Send Feedback command did
not include an ellipsis, it would imply that feedback is generated
and sent automatically by the application.

***

I think, the rules of mac osx are very easy to understand. But the
rules of microsoft are not. Furthermore, when i check up some
microsoft products, the rules are not respected (e.g. the "Options"
button).

In our application we have for example a non modal dialog, in which
items can be locked or unlocked. The problem is, the user does not
need to be perform the command immediately. But if i named the menu
command "Lock/unlock items" the ellipsis are required, because user
could be expected, that the command will be executed immediately.
In other dialogs, user can managed diefferent presets of specific
settings.

Should i don't use ellipsis only if the command name is
non-ambiguous e.g. "Permission overview" or only information will
be displayed?
Should i use ellipsis, if the user can make some changes (immediately
or not immediately)?
Or must commands named without the verb of the action?

Thanx

Comments

15 Feb 2010 - 11:21am
sylvania
2005

A safe rule of thumb for ellipsis is to include them if a dialog is invoked that will ask for more information from the user.

The wording of both MS and Apple interface guidelines is confusing and sounds contradictory (and, as you've observed, MS doesn't always follow their own guidelines), but in practise they're usually the same. The key points are:
MS: "only when additional information is required to perform the action"
and
Apple: "in which the user sets preferences, customizes the toolbar, or sends feedback"

Apple's explanation of an item without ellipsis implying immediate action *sounds* good, but in practise that's not really how they do it. For instance, here's an example of a menu in Numbers: http://screencast.com/t/NjliZjNk
The only items with ellipses invoke dialogs that require additional user input:
Preferences...
Try iWork...
While items that invoke display-only dialogs do not have them:
About Numbers
And items that launch Web sites don't have them:
Provide Numbers Feedback
Register Numbers

You'll find a similar scheme in on the PC.
For MS, it's important to also note that though the guideline says "is required to perform the action," the "required" bit is overstated here. Preferences and Options items always have ellipses, though the user doesn't *have to* do anything. The fact that they *can* is what warrants the ellipsis.

I'm not sure that I fully understand what your "Lock/Unlock Items" function would do, but I would suggest that if the item is opening a dialog in which the user can lock and unlock items, it should have an ellipsis.

Cheers!
Sylvania Dye

User Experience Designer, Snagit Mac & PC
TechSmith Corporation

On 2/14/10 9:28 PM, "sysscore" <mail at sysscore.com> wrote:

i have a question about when i should use ellipsis for commands in
menus, contextual menus and buttons in desktop applications (in
Java).

Sadly, the guidelines of microsoft and mac osx are different about
this topic.
I have found some interesting links in the web but nothing could
answer my questions...

****

Microsoft writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when:

"Proper use of ellipses is important to indicate that users can make
further choices before performing the action, or even cancel the
action entirely. The visual cue offered by an ellipsis allows users
to explore your software without fear.

This doesn't mean you should use an ellipsis whenever an action
displays another window-only when additional information is required
to perform the action. For example, the commands About, Advanced,
Help, Options, Properties, and Settings must display another window
when clicked, but don't require additional information from the
user. Therefore they don't need ellipses.

In case of ambiguity (for example, the command label lacks a verb),
decide based on the most likely user action. If simply viewing the
window is a common action, don't use an ellipsis."

***

Macintosh writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when the action:

Is performed by the user in a separate window or dialog.

For example, Preferences, Customize Toolbar, and Send Feedback all
use an ellipsis because they open a window (potentially in another
application, such as a browser) or a dialog in which the user sets
preferences, customizes the toolbar, or sends feedback.

To see why such commands must include an ellipsis, consider that the
absence of an ellipsis implies that the application performs the
action for the user. If, for example, the Send Feedback command did
not include an ellipsis, it would imply that feedback is generated
and sent automatically by the application.

***

I think, the rules of mac osx are very easy to understand. But the
rules of microsoft are not. Furthermore, when i check up some
microsoft products, the rules are not respected (e.g. the "Options"
button).

In our application we have for example a non modal dialog, in which
items can be locked or unlocked. The problem is, the user does not
need to be perform the command immediately. But if i named the menu
command "Lock/unlock items" the ellipsis are required, because user
could be expected, that the command will be executed immediately.
In other dialogs, user can managed diefferent presets of specific
settings.

Should i don't use ellipsis only if the command name is
non-ambiguous e.g. "Permission overview" or only information will
be displayed?
Should i use ellipsis, if the user can make some changes (immediately
or not immediately)?
Or must commands named without the verb of the action?

Thanx

15 Feb 2010 - 5:02pm
cfmdesigns
2004

Mentally, I have always mapped the presence of an ellipsis to "Puts the
user in a modal state where he has to do something to get back to what
he was doing" -- ie, shows a dialog that the user has to interact with
(if only to exit), but there could be other modal states to be processed
that are not tied to a dialog.

That isn't quite how it is usually used, I realize, but as you note, how
it is usually used isn't consistent.

(Note that the model I used would put an ellipsis on a command which
just puts up a status alert. Because to the user, an alert is a dialog,
no different than the no-op About dialog in what the user has to do
next. Which should encourage use of other status techniques than
mode-forcing alerts!

-- Jim

On 02/15/2010 02:28 AM, sysscore wrote:
> i have a question about when i should use ellipsis for commands in
> menus, contextual menus and buttons in desktop applications (in
> Java).
>
> Sadly, the guidelines of microsoft and mac osx are different about
> this topic.
> I have found some interesting links in the web but nothing could
> answer my questions...
>
> ****
>
> Microsoft writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when:
>
> "Proper use of ellipses is important to indicate that users can make
> further choices before performing the action, or even cancel the
> action entirely. The visual cue offered by an ellipsis allows users
> to explore your software without fear.
>
> This doesn't mean you should use an ellipsis whenever an action
> displays another window—only when additional information is required
> to perform the action. For example, the commands About, Advanced,
> Help, Options, Properties, and Settings must display another window
> when clicked, but don't require additional information from the
> user. Therefore they don't need ellipses.
>
> In case of ambiguity (for example, the command label lacks a verb),
> decide based on the most likely user action. If simply viewing the
> window is a common action, don't use an ellipsis."
>
> ***
>
> Macintosh writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when the action:
>
> Is performed by the user in a separate window or dialog.
>
> For example, Preferences, Customize Toolbar, and Send Feedback all
> use an ellipsis because they open a window (potentially in another
> application, such as a browser) or a dialog in which the user sets
> preferences, customizes the toolbar, or sends feedback.
>
> To see why such commands must include an ellipsis, consider that the
> absence of an ellipsis implies that the application performs the
> action for the user. If, for example, the Send Feedback command did
> not include an ellipsis, it would imply that feedback is generated
> and sent automatically by the application.
>
> ***
>
> I think, the rules of mac osx are very easy to understand. But the
> rules of microsoft are not. Furthermore, when i check up some
> microsoft products, the rules are not respected (e.g. the "Options"
> button).
>
> In our application we have for example a non modal dialog, in which
> items can be locked or unlocked. The problem is, the user does not
> need to be perform the command immediately. But if i named the menu
> command "Lock/unlock items" the ellipsis are required, because user
> could be expected, that the command will be executed immediately.
> In other dialogs, user can managed diefferent presets of specific
> settings.
>
> Should i don't use ellipsis only if the command name is
> non-ambiguous e.g. "Permission overview" or only information will
> be displayed?
> Should i use ellipsis, if the user can make some changes (immediately
> or not immediately)?
> Or must commands named without the verb of the action?
>
>
> Thanx

16 Feb 2010 - 4:24am
sysscore
2007

I think so, the rule for using ellipsis, if the user can make inputs
or selections in a separate dialog and cancel the action by closing
the dialog is the unambiguity and logical method.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=49372

16 Feb 2010 - 4:33pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

Recently our Human Factors group had a brief discussion of ellipsis in
command buttons and links. Two questions don't let me sleep ever since:
1. Do people notice ellipsis?
2. If people do notice them, do ellipsis ever stop them?

Anyone knows the answers? Any research etc.

By the way, we have decided to get rid of ellipsis in action labels
entirely. We still use them when text is cut off due to width constraints
(for example datagrid column labels).

Thanks,
Oleh Kovalchuke
(816) 808-6177

On Sun, Feb 14, 2010 at 8:28 PM, sysscore <mail at sysscore.com> wrote:

> i have a question about when i should use ellipsis for commands in
> menus, contextual menus and buttons in desktop applications (in
> Java).
>
> Sadly, the guidelines of microsoft and mac osx are different about
> this topic.
> I have found some interesting links in the web but nothing could
> answer my questions...
>
> ****
>
> Microsoft writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when:
>
> "Proper use of ellipses is important to indicate that users can make
> further choices before performing the action, or even cancel the
> action entirely. The visual cue offered by an ellipsis allows users
> to explore your software without fear.
>
> This doesn't mean you should use an ellipsis whenever an action
> displays another window—only when additional information is required
> to perform the action. For example, the commands About, Advanced,
> Help, Options, Properties, and Settings must display another window
> when clicked, but don't require additional information from the
> user. Therefore they don't need ellipses.
>
> In case of ambiguity (for example, the command label lacks a verb),
> decide based on the most likely user action. If simply viewing the
> window is a common action, don't use an ellipsis."
>
> ***
>
> Macintosh writtes, that ellipsis should be used, when the action:
>
> Is performed by the user in a separate window or dialog.
>
> For example, Preferences, Customize Toolbar, and Send Feedback all
> use an ellipsis because they open a window (potentially in another
> application, such as a browser) or a dialog in which the user sets
> preferences, customizes the toolbar, or sends feedback.
>
> To see why such commands must include an ellipsis, consider that the
> absence of an ellipsis implies that the application performs the
> action for the user. If, for example, the Send Feedback command did
> not include an ellipsis, it would imply that feedback is generated
> and sent automatically by the application.
>
> ***
>
> I think, the rules of mac osx are very easy to understand. But the
> rules of microsoft are not. Furthermore, when i check up some
> microsoft products, the rules are not respected (e.g. the "Options"
> button).
>
> In our application we have for example a non modal dialog, in which
> items can be locked or unlocked. The problem is, the user does not
> need to be perform the command immediately. But if i named the menu
> command "Lock/unlock items" the ellipsis are required, because user
> could be expected, that the command will be executed immediately.
> In other dialogs, user can managed diefferent presets of specific
> settings.
>
> Should i don't use ellipsis only if the command name is
> non-ambiguous e.g. "Permission overview" or only information will
> be displayed?
> Should i use ellipsis, if the user can make some changes (immediately
> or not immediately)?
> Or must commands named without the verb of the action?
>
>
> Thanx
>
>
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16 Feb 2010 - 5:22pm
mvandergaag
2009

While in normal text ... use of ellipses (%u2026) would help users
understand that there is more to come, In a menu their use is
ambiguous.

Use of a link entitled %u201CMore%u201D or %u201CDetails%u201D would
be more obvious.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=49372

17 Feb 2010 - 4:46am
cfmdesigns
2004

Good point. I would say that few people notice them, only a handful
know what they are for, and they never ever provide actual value to
users (stopping them from doing a command). They are vestiges of UI
design from 20+ years ago, and I'm not sure they were useful then, either.

-- Jim

On 02/17/2010 10:33 AM, Oleh Kovalchuke wrote:
> 1. Do people notice ellipsis?
> 2. If people do notice them, do ellipsis ever stop them?

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