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I'm trying to limit instructional text in a form.

Can I shorten "75 characters" to "75 chars" and have it be clear to a fairly inexperienced Web user?

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Why are you limiting text? Can you give us more context? On its own, this seems like a perfect example of where having a full word rather than an abbreviation helps reduce ambiguity and improves the experience. –  dhmholley Dec 20 '12 at 14:19
    
Thank you dhmholley. Text is being limited because of the need for brevity where the user's response will be displayed (what they're entering in this particular field is a title) –  Mark Gavagan Dec 21 '12 at 15:24
    
Is this title as in Mr/Mrs, or job title? Just as a side-note, the string "75 characters left" is only composed out of 18 characters - how wide is the input field? –  CJ Franken Dec 23 '12 at 18:35
    
CJ Franken, by "title" I meant the title of something else, not that person's title such as "Dr." "Senator" etc. –  Mark Gavagan Dec 23 '12 at 21:03
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, but there's a nicer way to do it.

Case in point: composing a tweet in Twitter, which has a limit of 140 characters.

Quite simply there is a number by the submit button in clear view that shows the number of remaining characters that decreases as you type, and once the user exceeds the limit the submit button is disabled and the negative remaining characters label is now red.

The character limit is then almost implicit without requiring that the user has read or understood that there is a limit in place.

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It depends on what you call "universal"... In French, "char" is a name, and might mean a chariot, a tank, etc. :-) This abbreviation talks probably to most programmers, but I am unsure about the average pedestrian.

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I know the abbreviation is very common universally with programmers but i don't think it is half as common with users in general. I would set up an online poll or something like that and asks friends, family etc what they would associate char with then get the results and make a decision based on the results.

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It's definitely not a common abbreviation for a general population audience. Instead, I'm wondering why you want to display this information at all to the default user. You say this is for a field for the user to enter his title. Most likely that will be a very short entry and he will never get even near your 75 word limitation.

So the proper solution would be to display a warning once she reaches something like 65 characters.

Using Twitter's pattern (of showing a character countdown from 75 on downwards) is out of place here because it's not useful for the user to know about it. With my solution you don't bother 90% of the users with useless information but you also offer a useful explanation to those users that actually hit the limitation.

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➕1 good solution that workes from a different angle –  kontur Dec 23 '12 at 18:36
    
Thierry Blancpain, by "title" I meant the title of something else, not that person's title such as "Dr." "Senator" etc. –  Mark Gavagan Dec 23 '12 at 20:05
    
Okay. I still think Twitter's pattern probably isn't useful here as on Twitter everything's about those 140 chars. If that's true for your form, okay. Otherwise, I'd stay away from it. Say 75% of users reach the limit once while using the form, many still won't reach it even 25% of the time. Why make them think about the limit when they just want to enter their title? Obviously I'm operating with made-up numbers here, but the overall argument still stands. Can you tell us a bit more about the use of the form? Is it a forum post form? Application form? –  Thierry Blancpain Dec 23 '12 at 20:18
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How about "letters" as an alternative? Its shorter than "characters" yet more commonly understandable.

Edit: or "signs", to also include punctuation.

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Only considering letters will exclude spaces and punctuation unfortunately, but I also thought along a similar line... –  CJ Franken Dec 23 '12 at 18:28
    
You could also try "signs" if your input is more than single words. But you get the point, there is a couple of suitable alternatives. –  kontur Dec 23 '12 at 18:32
    
Thank you, but it can be letters, numbers, punctuation and spaces. –  Mark Gavagan Dec 23 '12 at 20:06
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@MarkGavagan: Most users who see a limitation on letters within a form field will assume "letters" includes all characters, rather than only letters. You'll occasionally get a user who complains, but this is more often due to pedantry than confusion. A possible exception might be for physical services like embossing and drawing (in which case a user might expect a space character to be free). I think "letters" may, in fact, be more understandable to users than the word "characters," as it's a more common word. –  Brian Dec 24 '12 at 15:56
    
Thank you Brian. You make a good point that most would probably correctly assume that. Happy Holidays! –  Mark Gavagan Dec 25 '12 at 16:27
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