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I find that the "preferences" menu item is always in a different place, and often under an arbitrary name which always makes it a pain to locate unless you're already familiar with the software.

I have seen it under the file, edit, window, help, and options menu (probably more) and is either called "preferences," "settings," or "options."

Has there been any studies or evidence to suggest where the application settings should go? And I am referring to the application settings, not file/project/whatever specific settings. I already know that putting it under "file" is wrong for application global settings, and under "edit" is probably wrong in all circumstances. But what about besides that? Is it better to just have an entire options menu to further break it down? Should it be under the "window" menu since it is, after all, its own window? What about window > options? Is it ever right to put it under the "help" menu?

I'm talking mostly in terms of usability (which place users look first), but also semantically (as in, the file menu doesn't make sense). I personally never start with file, edit, or help -- even though that's often where the menu item is -- but rather search high and low through other menus first. Is this a common behavior?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

For Mac OS X, it's Application Name | Preferences…

For MS Windows, it's Tools | Options or Edit | Preferences (see comments)

For GNOME, it's Edit | Preferences

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Yep, Tools > Options is what MS uses. –  Jouke van der Maas Aug 15 '10 at 21:51
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On windows it is usually Edit | Preferences and Preferences is located at the end of Edit menu with e Separator. –  Morteza M. Aug 15 '10 at 22:45
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@Morteza M. - Yeah, there's not much consistency about this. MS uses Tools > Options, a lot of other windows software uses Edit > Preferences. IMO, the edit menu isn't a great place to put it simply because the standard edit menu commands (cut, copy paste, select all, etc.) all deal directly with the content in the current document. But the edit menu is often used as a dumping ground for things that don't fit elsewhere -- and for better or worse, advanced users have come to expect this. –  Fraser Aug 16 '10 at 4:36
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Adobe uses Edit | Preferences –  Kit Aug 17 '10 at 15:09
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@mickeyf: It's basically arbitrary. So the rule is: put it in the standard location for your platform. –  Mechanical snail Aug 23 '11 at 7:32
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