Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy for technical communication

Problem words

This section lists words that are frequently misused. Avoid using the words marked with the hazard icon do not use.

accelerator key do not use

Use keyboard shortcut.

divider

access

Access, as a verb, is usually too general. Use a more specific word.

Problem: Access the application.

Example: Start the application.

divider

affect

Affect is generally used as a verb.

Example: Changing weather affects my sinuses.

See effect.

divider

allow do not use

Avoid using allow when referring to software features.

Problem: The software allows you to adjust the color of a photo.

Example: Using the software, you can adjust the color of a photo.

divider

among vs. between

Use between when describing two things.

Example: I couldn’t decide between this and that.

Use among when describing three or more things.

Example: I couldn’t decide among all these choices.

divider

appear (verb) do not use

Use is displayed instead of appears.

divider

appendix–plural

Use appendixes instead of appendices.

divider

Backspace (key name)

One word, no hyphen. Initial cap.

divider

bring up (verb) do not use

Use display or open instead of bring up.

divider

button

Definition: A mechanism on a pointing device, such as a mouse, that users use to perform actions. A graphical device on the interface that lets the user perform an action with one click. See also radio button.

divider

cascading menu do not use

Use submenu.

divider

check box

Two words. No hyphen.

Definition: A square, button-like box associated with a user-selectable option. When selected, the box may be filled, checked, contain an “x” or appear pushed in. Check boxes may be grouped together in a box with a title. More than one check box can be checked.

Example: Check the Clear All Change Bars check box.

divider

choose

Avoid using choose. Select is usually more explicit.

divider

click (verb)

Use click to describe mouse actions only. Use select to describe GUI actions.

Example: Click the right mouse button to display the pop-up menu.

divider

consists of do not use

Use has instead of consists of.

divider

criterion/criteria

Criterion is singular; criteria are plural.

divider

data (noun)

The word data is singular.

Example: Data is stored on tape.

divider

database

One word. No space, no hyphen.

divider

data set

Two words. No hyphen.

divider

desire do not use

There is no desire in technical documentation. Use want instead of desire.

divider

desktop

The background on the screen where all windows and icons are displayed.

divider

desktop menu

A list of choices displayed when the user clicks the right mouse button with the mouse pointer positioned on the desktop.

divider

double-click (verb)

Hyphenate double-click when used as a verb.

Example: Double-click the left mouse button.

divider

drop-down list box

Hyphenate. Drop-down may be omitted if there are no plain list boxes on the window.

Definition: A list box displayed on the GUI as a rectangle with an activation button on the right side. When users select this button, a list is displayed. After users select an item from the list, the list box collapses to a rectangle that displays the selection.

divider

e.g.

Use for example instead of e.g.

divider

effect

Effect is generally used as a noun.

Example: One effect of changing weather is aching sinuses.

See affect.

divider

electronic mail (contraction)

Use email, no hyphen, no capital letter.

divider

end user (noun)

Two words. No hyphen unless used as an adjective.

See also superuser.

divider

enter (verb) do not use

Use type for text that the user inputs.

Example: Type the name on the command line.

divider

etc.

Use and so on or and the like instead of etc.

divider

fewer vs. less

Use fewer when referring to specific numbers and measurements, and use less when referring to general amounts.

Examples:

If a customer orders fewer than 10 CDs but more than five, the customer receives a free CD. NOT: If a customer orders less than 10 CDs …

It takes less time to fill orders when your company uses our application.

divider

field

A part of the interface where users can type information to add data to or search a database.

divider

flipchart

One word.

divider

gray vs. grey

Gray is American English; grey is British. Use gray.

divider

hardcopy

One word as an adjective; two words as a noun.

divider

healthcare

One word.

divider

hit (verb) do not use

Use press or select instead of hit. Use press for keyboard actions and select for GUI operations.

Problem: Hit the Enter key.

Examples: Press Enter.

Select the File menu, then Open.

divider

home page

Two words.

divider

icon

Definition: A graphical representation of an object that users can select and open, such as a minimized application window.

divider

ID

Use ID as the abbreviation for identification.

divider

i.e.

Use that is instead of i.e.

divider

impact do not use

Do not use impact as a verb. Use affect instead.

divider

index–plural

Use indexes instead of indices.

divider

invoke do not use

Use open or start instead of invoke.

Example: Start the screen saver by pressing Esc.

 

divider

is designed to… do not use

Do not use is designed to.

Problem: The software is designed to sort tables.

Example: The software sorts tables.

divider

keyboard shortcut

A key or sequence of keys used to perform actions like displaying menus or dismissing windows.

divider

labeled, labeling vs. labelled, labelling

Use labeled and labeling.

divider

launch

Avoid using launch. Use start or open when appropriate.

Problem: Launch the application.

Example: Start the application.

divider

lefthand do not use

Use left.

divider

less vs. fewer

See fewer vs. less.

divider

list box

Two words. List is also acceptable.

Definition: A box containing a list of items users can select.

See also drop-down list box.

divider

main window do not use

Do not use main window.

divider

maximize button

Definition: The button that is in the top right corner of the window and is to the right of the minimize button. It expands a window to its maximum size.

divider

may (auxiliary verb)

May implies permission. Use can when appropriate.

divider

menu

Use menus, not menu bar.

Definition: A list from which the user can select choices to execute associated commands.

divider

menu bar do not use

Do not use menu bar.

Problem: Select File from the menu bar and choose Open.

Example: Select the File menu, then Open.

divider

menu choice

Use menu choice for items listed on menus, not menu pick or menu option.

divider

menu option do not use

Use choice for things on menus.

divider

minimize button

Definition: The button that is in the top right corner of the window and is to the left of the maximize button. It reduces a window to an icon.

divider

modeled, modeling vs. modelled, modelling

Use modeled and modeling.

divider

multi (prefix)

No hyphen. See The Chicago Manual of Style for exceptions.

Example: multimedia, multitasking

divider

online/on-line

Use online, no hyphen.

divider

onscreen/on-screen

Use onscreen, no hyphen.

divider

pane

An area of the window used to group window items by function. Panes are often enclosed by a titled box or shading that makes the pane appear raised.

divider

parenthesis/parentheses

Parenthesis is singular; parentheses is plural. Usually used in plural form.

divider

pick (menu pick) do not use

Use choice for things on menus.

divider

populate (verb) do not use

Avoid in user documentation and in training materials. Use display, or rewrite the sentence.

Use of populate in system documentation is acceptable.

divider

post (prefix)

No hyphen. See The Chicago Manual of Style for exceptions.

divider

pop-up menu

A menu that is displayed when the user right-clicks on a designated part of the interface, such as the desktop menu.

divider

pre (prefix)

No hyphen. See The Chicago Manual of Style for exceptions.

Example: predefined

press (verb)

Use press for keyboard actions. Use select for GUI actions.

Example: Press Enter to continue.

Example: Select the Apply button.

divider

pull-down do not use

Do not use pull-down menu, just menu. (All menus are pull-down menus–unless they’re pop-up menus.) Use drop-down for lists.

divider

radio button

Definition: A round button assigned to a user-selectable option. Only one button in a group of radio buttons can be selected. Radio buttons may be grouped together by type. If they are displayed in a box with a title, the box should not be called a pane.

Example: On the ChangeAddress window, select one of the Requested By radio buttons.

Problem: From the Requested By pane, select the Customer radio button.
Example: Select the Requested By Customer radio button.

divider

re (prefix)

No hyphen, unless the word is confusing without it.

divider

reengineering

One word. No hyphen.

divider

righthand do not use

Use right.

divider

run time

As a noun, use two words. Hyphenate when using as an adjective.

divider

screen do not use

Use screen only to describe the panel on the front of the monitor. Always use window to describe a part of the GUI.

divider

scroll bar

Two words.

divider

secondary window do not use

Do not use.

divider

select (verb)

Use for GUI actions. Use press for keyboard actions. Use click only to describe using a mouse button.

Example: Select the Apply button.

Example: Press Enter to continue.

divider

shortcut key do not use

Use keyboard shortcut.

divider

simple, simply do not use

Do not use simple or simply to describe a feature or step.

divider

single-click do not use

Use click instead of single-click.

divider

slider

Use to describe the GUI object that the user slides back and forth to adjust a numeric value.

divider

space bar

Use space bar to refer to the space bar on the keyboard.

divider

stand-alone

Hyphenated.

divider

startup, start-up

Noun form is one word: “The configuration file is read at startup.”

Adjectival form is hyphenated: “The names are in the start-up file.”

Note that the verb form should be start, not start up.

status line

Definition: An area of the window that displays system messages. The status line may be part of a toolbar or it may stand alone.

If there are buttons on either side of the status line, only the area where messages are displayed is called a status line. The buttons and status line together are called a toolbar.

divider

submenu

A menu that you select from another menu. The menu choice with an arrow beside it is the submenu name.

Example: From the Group menu, select the List submenu, then By Skills.

divider

submenu choice

A choice you select from a submenu.

Example: From the Group menu, select the List submenu, then By Skills.

divider

superuser

One word. See also end user.

divider

tab

Definition: A part of the interface that looks like the name area on a file folder. It is used to group window items by function. When the user selects a tab, it is displayed in front of all other tabs.

divider

their

Do not use as gender-neutral singular. Instead, rewrite the sentence so that it doesn’t require a pronoun, or make it plural. See also gender.

Problem: When the user looks at their screen, they crash the system.

Example: Look at your screen to crash the system.

Example: When users look at their screens, they crash the system.

divider

toolbar

One word.

Definition: Toolbars have one or more buttons and may include other window items such as status lines and fields.

divider

type

Use type instead of enter.

Example: Type your name to start the program.

divider

U.S.

Always put periods in the abbreviation for United States.

divider

utilize do not use

Use use instead of utilize.

divider

user name

Two words. No caps. If interface shows term as one word, use one word.

divider

web site

Two words.

divider

window control button

All lowercase.

Definition: This button, in the upper left corner of most windows, displays a list of window control choices

divider

wish (verb) do not use

Use want instead of wish.

divider

workaround

One word. No hyphen.

divider

workflow

One word. No hyphen.

One Comment

  1. The alt tag for the divider image was displayed instead of the image. I have corrected the code.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.