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In the interests of speaking more like a human, I'm working through some of the terms used in an application. One of the terms is "edit".

It strikes me that "change" is a much more human way of saying "edit", but all apps that I've seen so far use "edit".

Which would you use and why?

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@RogerAttrill: didn't find that on search. My Googlefu needs improving. –  JohnGB Oct 24 '11 at 19:07
    
As you say: "but all apps that I've seen so far use edit" - so that's why I'd stick to this convention. –  PhillipW Oct 26 '11 at 9:42
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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

"Edit" sounds reasonably technical, but step back from computers and remember people that revise, update and correct documents are called editors. It's not a CS exclusive term.

Wikipedia defines edit as

the process of selecting and preparing written, visual, audible, and film media used to convey information through the processes of correction, condensation, organization, and other modifications in various media, performed with an intention of producing a correct, consistent, accurate, and complete output.

Change implies to me that I have one thing and I'm going to swap it out for another; for instance if I was asked to change my desktop wallpaper I would replace it with an entirely different image file.

Edit strikes to the heart of what you're usually doing when you click an "edit" button; you're using the same object or file, but you are tweaking, updating, correcting or adding to the content; this is different than changing my task list into something completely different. To extend the above example, if you asked me to edit my wallpaper I would probably open up an image editor and tweak the current desktop image.

Editing is something an editor does, and it's something everyone is familiar with. Perhaps more importantly most applications use the term edit in this manner, and breaching the norm will likely cause a lot more confusion despite the attempt at "natural" language.

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Corel did a paper prototype usability test that showed users were confused by a Change Site button (youtube.com/watch?v=ppnRQD06ggY). The users seemed to believe the button swapped in a different site to work on. It actually meant modify the currently displayed site (i.e., Edit Site, not Change). Unfortunately, the usability testers didn’t identify the the label as the problem, but instead concluded that they needed to do a card sort. –  Michael Zuschlag Oct 25 '11 at 11:28
    
@MichaelZuschlag Haha. Great bit of research even if they didn't properly interpret it, thanks for sharing it! –  Ben Brocka Oct 25 '11 at 14:31
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If you are replacing completely the element in question, you can use change. But remember that change implies an unconscious "for what" which means it's better in the case where you have pre-defined choices already available.
edit on the other hand requires supplementary details if you are not letting the user edit everything he thinks he should be able to.

In short: prefer edit for the most freedom and change for the most restrictive environments.

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Wish I could upvote twice. You might change your preferences. "Receive updates on Mondays. Change" Whereas you would Edit your Bio. –  aslum Oct 24 '11 at 17:28
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When text is being modified edit is a correct and well accepted term. It also implies a partial modification. You edit texts, but you change settings. You edit a description, but you change an email address field.

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I would use edit, because as you said, all apps use it. Users are trained to look for it.

Edit is also little shorter, which is always a plus.

I have used change in the past, but it is usually connected to an action that picks new values/members from a predefined list.

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