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When we build an e-commerce application (most probably a web application), input validation is one of the core concepts of these type of applications. When the validation fails, we need to provide a user something more that red signals.

For example let's assume that an input field is required and the end user tries to submit the form without filling the required field. The below error messages would be the type of message that we would get:

  • Name field is required.
  • Name field needs to be filled.
  • Please do not leave Name field empty.
  • Please fill the Name filed

I am always unsure about these options. Should we really be polite when we are providing validation messages? Do you think end user would hate us if we say so much "please" (if there are multiple messages, we would be saying please, please, please over and over again)?

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migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Nov 24 '11 at 10:34

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

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Isn't this similar to this question: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/10853/… ? –  Bart Gijssens Nov 24 '11 at 10:38
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7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I would say yes when this doesn't stand in the way of readability. What I think works well is that you start the error message with a friendly introduction (plays nice with multiple errors too).

Sorry we couldn't submit your data. Please consider correcting following error:

  • Name field is required.

I think it is very important that your communication is not aggresive. You almost want to communicate to the user that its the websites fault and not the user. You surely don't want to annoy the user and have him/her leaving the site before finnishing the buying process.

I can't find the link anymore but 37Signals did AB testing on signup and noticed that they got higher signup rates when they thanked the user along the way. I can imagine the same effect applies here.

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I like this approach, say please once, don't repeat yourself. Imho, error messages should state: what user did, what went wrong, how to fix. –  AndyM Jan 25 at 2:42
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No. Keep your message text short and meaningful. When you should break this rule, read the Windows UI Guidelines:

Windows UI Guidelines

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Well, NO. Lets stop with this please approach. We want you. You want us. lets thanks and please each other more seriously.

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OK, but can you back that up with some references? What are you basing this on? –  Rahul Nov 24 '11 at 12:00
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In general, no, because when over-used the word starts to lose its impact. In cases where you need the user to do something outside of the normal workflow, or when you're asking him/her to take an extraordinary step (like sending in a screenshot with a bug report), then use 'please' to soften the inconvenience.

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In general I would say no, but it depends on the personality you want to give you product. If you are aiming for a very friendly product. For example something like Innocent drinks. They often personify their products and use a much more friendly language. For example they may say "Careful when you take me out the Microwave I can be a little hot".

To summarise from a pure usability point of view I would always keep the message short and to the point. BUT there may be some instances where product personality/brand is more important.

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Error messages should be as short and concise as possible, unless you are trying to be funny.

In this case try something like this:

"You left the name field blank you numbskull. Do you really expect to get anywhere without filling it out?"

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However this sort of thing is really a minor thing, a far worse thing to do is to be unspecific with your error messages. If there are 12 fields to fill out and you don't clearly indicate to the user which fields are causing the problem and why, you can plan on the user wanting to kill the programmer/company that produced the software. Even worse is when the good fields get wiped out and they have to retype everything because they messed up on only one field. That's what we should be worried about, because we see it happen far to often in too many applications.

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Don't say anything. Turn those fields red and shake/flash them for a second.

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