Re: [Usability] The use of ellipsis (...) in menus

On Mar 15, 2006, at 9:01 PM, Sergej Kotliar wrote:
When translating some apps into Swedish, I noticed some strings had
triple dots (...) after them. Turned out - most of them were in the
menus. Since I had never thought about their existence, I decided to
find out what they meant. By looking at different apps, I couldn't
consistently find the common denominator of the actions that had the
three dots. A google search showed that in both Microsoft and Apple
Human Interface Guidelines, these three dots symbolize that the action
needed additional data to be entered, most likely opening a new window
for that data. As a result - "Save As..." has this, and "Save" doesn't.
When trying to prove this to myself in GNOME, I looked at some of the
most used apps (gedit, eog, nautilus, epiphany, terminal), and notice
that they all treat this rule a bit differently. Where one app had the
three dots, another would not. There were even some inconsistencies
within the apps themselves.

Bug reporting time!

*   "Page Setup..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
*   "Print Preview" has an ellipsis and shouldn't.
*   "Page Setup..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
*   "Check Spelling..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
*   "Set Language..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.

*   "Save As..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
*   "Print..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.

*   "Stretch Icon..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
*   "Share Folder..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
*   "Edit Bookmarks..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.

*   "Personal Data..." and "Toolbars..." should have ellipses and
    don't, because they're following the pattern of "Preferences" (see
*   "Edit Bookmarks..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
*   "Extensions..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't.
I haven't reported these in Bugzilla, because I'm working on a more thorough smartening up of Epiphany's menus.

All of the above:
*   "Preferences..." should have an ellipsis and doesn't. This is an
    error in the HIG.

No errors found. Bravo, gnome-terminal hackers!

So - what to do about these little things, that have been around since
the days of Win3.1 (and probably much earlier)?

Since about 200 BCE. :-)

As I see it, there's three ways to go:

* Remove them completely. State in the HIG that they shouldn't be used.
* Define more clearly exactly when they should be used, and file bugs
for each app and occasion of wrongful use. This will probably result in quite a lot of bugs

I prefer this option. The current guideline says:

    Label the menu item with a trailing ellipsis ("...") only if the
    command requires further input from the user before it can be
    performed. Do not add an ellipsis to items that only present a
    confirmation dialog (such as Delete), or that do not require
    further input (such as Properties, Preferences or About).

I would define this more exactly as:

    End the label for a button or menu item with an ellipsis ("…" in
    English) if the user's most likely goal when selecting the item
    requires further input before it can be completed. For example,
    the most likely goal in choosing "Edit" > "Preferences…" is to
    change the preferences, so that item should have an ellipsis.

    This is independent of whether the item opens a new window: for
    example a "Print Preview" item should not have an ellipsis
    because no further input is required to display the preview,
    and a "Find…" item should have an ellipsis even when it doesn't
    open a new window.

Furthermore, I would like to diverge from Windows and (most of) Mac OS with the following detail:

    An item should have an ellipsis even if the only further input
    required is a confirmation alert. For example, a "Log Out…"
    item that requires confirmation should still have an ellipsis
    to show that the menu item by itself will not log you out. And
    a "Close" item should have an ellipsis during the periods when
    choosing the item will produce a confirmation alert.

* Do nothing. Status quo remains.

What I think (and this is where I say I'm in no means an expert in the
area), it that we should go with removing them entirely from the GNOME
HIG, and GNOME itself. My reasons for this are the following:

* Most people don't notice them, and aren't helped by them.

Even if they're only useful for "leet" people, as you put it, that doesn't mean they shouldn't exist. Leet people are humans too.

* The people that do notice them might be confused by them.

Might be? Why?

* They are probably not translatable into all languages.

That's not a reason to make the interface worse in the many languages where ellipses are meaningful. Which (I am reliably informed) include Swedish.

* They waste space (both disk space, and screen space)

Twelve whole pixels and one whole byte!

* The use of the ellipsis is totally inconsistent between apps,

No, it's not. The bugs you alluded to are a minority.

and largely depend on the author.

No, it doesn't. Authors mostly follow the HIG, with occasional mistakes.

Sometimes it's even inconsistent within an app itself.

I found only one example of this in the programs you listed: gedit's "Print Preview" command, which incorrectly had an ellipsis in the File menu, but correctly did not have one in the Print dialog. One example isn't "sometimes".

* The use of three dots to indicate a dialog opening seems rather
oldfashioned - can't we have something better now?

That's probably your worst reason. Old is not a synonym for bad.

* In some cases, they hinder the reuse of the same string for multiple
purposes, causing extra translation work.

That's true, but good translation tools should be able to present the translations for non-ellipsized strings as suggestions for the ellipsized equivalents, and vice versa, so the only work necessary is adding or removing the ellipsis. (This is planned for Rosetta, for example.)

If people really feel that they do in fact fill some purpose, shouldn't there at least be some kind of icon or something that is international to indicate the opening of a new window?

But that's not what the ellipsis is for. And menus in Gnome really need fewer icons, not more. :-)

Matthew Paul Thomas

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