Influence of Help System and Error Messages on User Experience

Influence of Help System and Error Messages on User Experience

The text of help (question-answering system) or error message is often seen as an insignificant part of the product and is written by inexperienced programmers or inexperienced technical writers. Changes to this text are made lastly.

It should be remembered that the user accesses the help system when facing problems. It is not necessary to speak about error messages. The user is upset, nervous, and needs help, but not an additional reason to fret.


High level of complexity


It is harder to read from the screen than from paper. Studies have shown that the maximum acceptable level of text complexity on the screen is level 5. And anyway the text of the online help system and error messages should not be more difficult than the text of the printed manual. Program messages should be simple, concise; sentences must be affirmative and contain a minimum of technical terms, even if the program user is a computer specialist.




Program messages should be simple and concise. As a rule, the user of the program does not have time to read someone’s verbose outpourings. If the user needs to obtain additional information, it is better to provide him /her with a separate quick access to it. Do not make him /her read half a page for the sake of a single phrase.


When it comes to developing project documentation a majority of software developers prefers using a technical writing service. Experienced technical writers communicate complex technical information accurately, concisely, clearly and without resorting to jargon.


Inappropriate emotionality


Program messages should be emotionally neutral and extremely correct. The user is unlikely to like it if the program rubs his nose in his blunders. Check if there are messages in the program that can cause psychological discomfort.


Error messages should not contain exclamation marks (in some cases they can be perceived as a mockery or “discontent” of the program, and in others – as a signal of danger). Carefully pick words – be aware that the appearance of the window with the error message already makes the user tense. Therefore, the tone and voice of the message should be calm, businesslike and constructive.


The words “accident”, “failure”, “destruction”, “data loss” are extremely undesirable on the screen, and even the word “error” should be used as rarely as possible. Moreover, many so-called errors are typical – these are just situations that require certain corrections or additional instructions from the user. And many of them could be avoided if the program were a little more intelligent (and the programmer is more prudent).

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