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I came to ponder this question whilst mocking up a modal window for the application we're developing. I had trouble summarizing the semantic phrase: "Click here to get a list of all of the subscriptions this pool contains". I created a button saying "Show subscriptions in pool", and thought to myself that this can't be right...

When phrasing button text the best practice should of course be to as clearly and as briefly as possible describe the effect of the action, "less is more" really comes into play here.

I guess you could compile a chart for how the text of a button should be composed, if the situation allows for it of course:

  1. One word : Ideal
  2. Two words : OK
  3. Three words : hmmm...
  4. More words? : =(

(Please note that this estimation is done purely from my own reasoning, I have no reference to back it up with)


I would like to know if there are any studies conducted with this question in focus? Or if you know of any heuristics that would suggest a threshold, usability wise, for how many words a button can hold before it would be considered to be "too much"?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

The Windows User Experience Interaction Guidelines states that

While short labels are preferred, use enough text to explain the command sufficiently. Use a direct object (a noun after the verb) when the object is not apparent from context. Ideally users shouldn't have to read anything else to understand the label.

If your users can understand the usage of the button with Show subscriptions in pool, then don't seek to change it.

Be sure to leave enough free space around the button to accept any localized value of the button text.

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This has good reasoning behind it and you also include a reliable reference to strengthen your case. The only thing I can't wrap my head around is where you got MSalters quote from!? =) – AndroidHustle Mar 27 '12 at 7:13
The other answers below – Pierre-Alain Vigeant Mar 27 '12 at 12:53
but.. I don't see the quote you have in his answer? – AndroidHustle Mar 27 '12 at 13:17
One other factor is the dimensions of the actual button: if text starts wrapping onto a second line it seems to make it harder to read ( an unsubstantiated observation of mine ) – PhillipW Mar 27 '12 at 14:26

A evasive answer: when another UI mechanism would have been a better choice.

For instance, the hyperlink mechanism is well-recognised and also usable outside brower contexts. I.e. Show Subscriptions In Pool.

Also, note that the answer is language-dependent. The answer to this question probably is different in Chinese (this is based on seeing, but not actually understanding my UI translated in Simplified and Traditional Chinese).

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thanks for the answer. I see your line of thinking, and I know that the use of links is an arbitrary substitution for buttons. That doesn't really answer my question though. I want to know if anyone know of any factual evidence for this question. – AndroidHustle Mar 26 '12 at 14:47

We make software for the language impaired population and they recommend highlighting the primary words.

START Lesson

I find this to be a happy middle ground between too long and inscrutably short. I suspect that if Windows supported bolding on labels they might follow the same guidelines. (Coincidentally, just today I was using a photo printing service and they had some very confusing terminology ((fit vs. fill) and the ? help just gave the choices but with no explanation. I nearly had to go to a different service)

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