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What is the significance of the three dots “…” on menus and buttons and how to use them right?

As a simple example, in the file menu of Notepad the first option is "New" and the second one is "Open...". What is the rule here? At first I thought that it was simply that an option that opens a dialog should have an ellipsis but it's not entirely consistent even in Microsoft's applications.

Some examples from Microsoft Visual Studio:

  • "About Microsoft Visual Studio"
  • "Register Product"
  • "Options..."
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I think this has been done before: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/9544/… –  PhillipW Sep 25 '11 at 14:12
    
There was also some suggestion that users either don't notice them - or don't know what they are supposed to signify. However we failed to come up with any research on this: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/10035/… –  PhillipW Sep 25 '11 at 14:16
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marked as duplicate by Patrick McElhaney Sep 25 '11 at 20:20

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

From an answer on StackOverflow:

This is based on Microsoft/KDS/Apple GUI guidelines.

The factor is whether the menu option requires additional confirmation before it carries out the operation. So Help-About doesn't require an ellipsis, but File-Open does. That's what the Microsoft, Apple and KDE guidelines say anyway.

Full question/answers here: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/637683/when-to-use-ellipsis-after-menu-items

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Thanks for the answer. Seems like Microsoft don't follow their own guidelines In Visual Studio then (using ellipsis for "Options"). –  D.H. Sep 25 '11 at 13:19
    
Probably not D. H. These are the official rules, and are worth following for new applications, whatever happens with older ones. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 25 '11 at 13:58
    
@SchroedingersCat: Sorry, I don't understand what you mean by "probably not". And did "worth following for new applications, whatever happens with older ones" have anything todo with my Visual Studio example? –  D.H. Sep 25 '11 at 14:41
    
What I mean is, when you are writing an application, follow these rules. Pay more attention to the rules than the way MS abides by them or not. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 25 '11 at 15:56
    
@SchroedingersCat: I see. Thanks. –  D.H. Sep 25 '11 at 20:31
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Use ellipses on a menu item when a user who clicks it must provide further information, filtering or 'refining' the action somehow. Examples include 'Open', which requires the user to state which file to open, or 'Paste as', which requires exact instructions on what to paste as.

In web applications, ellipses are less common, because the convention is to separate anything that opens up new browser content, and anything that does something to the page, into clearly styled links and buttons respectively. If you have a web application button that must open confirmation or selection dialog, maintain the convention by having that dialog appear superimposed on the same page, or in a new, smaller browser window.

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