Timid error messages
~ 23 September 2005 ~
So yesterday I’m buying toner at a Yahoo-powered store and I get this message during checkout:
“I don’t seem to” have provided my email address? Either I did or I didn’t — which was it?
Being polite to users doesn’t necessarily mean being submissive. For some bizarre reason (here in the U.S. at least), we tend to be evasive with invitations and course-correcting instruction. How often have you heard such phrases as “I would suggest we…” or “We would like to welcome you…” Either you would or you wouldn’t — which is it? How about “I suggest we…” and “We welcome you…” instead?
Likewise in a web environment, be assertive. Assist the user by being frank, not by lacing messages with such timid phrasing as “would”, “should”, and “seem to”. The same advice extends to those who write copy in a marketing environment.
All this talk reminds me of Martha’s unassertive role in Wednesday’s premiere of “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart”. “You’ll be invited to the conference room where someone will be asked not to return” about sums up her entire performance. Sorry Martha, it’s simply “You’re fired!”
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