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Very often we need to speak generically about clicking or tapping an item, but there seems to be a lack of vocabulary in English for this. We could just say "click or tap" every time, but that is just clumsy.

Select is often used as a generic term, but it also has a different meaning (as in select text with the cursor) so could cause some confusion.

So what word can be used to refer to "clicking or tapping" an item?


Background:

I regularly work on web apps that run on a browser, so they are used on mobile (touch based) and pc's. I've used the term 'click' in the past as a generic term, but on user testing it has shown to cause some confusion for users. Select has been the clearest, but I am loathe to use that term as it has another meaning.


Some references:

  • Similar discussion at English SE
  • Cennydd Bowles (of Twitter and AListApart) offers Selecting
  • Not everyone agrees
  • Microsoft isn't very clear either ("click or tap X") in their Win8 UX Guide
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Thanks for the references Koen. They improve the question. –  JohnGB Apr 11 '13 at 13:25
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fwiw inside the Android SDK the concept is generally referred to as click such as with an OnClickListener for a button. –  FoamyGuy Apr 11 '13 at 15:25
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@FoamyGuy to play devils advocate, computers defragment memory heaps, but you won't see that in a general-user guide to the device. –  New Alexandria Apr 11 '13 at 18:38
    
Discombobulate the Z-axis of foo –  Izkata Apr 11 '13 at 20:23

17 Answers 17

up vote 42 down vote accepted

If you feel like jumping the action (click/tap) you can directly say "Select" the ...

Rather than a generic word, I would suggest you try to check what device the person is using and then say "click/tap" appropriate for the platform. But, then come the devices with both, a peripheral device and touch capability, which make this situation awkward-ish. You can still go with 'tap' since they are primarily touch (?) for interaction.

Also, I think you can use 'click' universally, since if you keep the sounds on, most platforms play a 'click' sound when you tap/click on any icon.

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Select is a perfect answer in my opinion. What if we start blinking our eyes to select an option tomorrow (as in Project Glass)? Is it a click just because we mimic a clicking sound to give feedback of the selection? –  kush Apr 11 '13 at 13:56
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Disagree; select is ambiguous with other types of action. Ex Does "select start" mean click/tap something with the word start on it, or drag/swipe to highlight it to be copied onto the clipboard. –  Dan Neely Apr 11 '13 at 17:34
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@DanNeely It is contextual... if it is a button/link then it means to click/tap, if it is a text block it means highlight. The UI element will signify what it means. –  rk. Apr 11 '13 at 17:46
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I like 'select' because it also accepts that some people might be using input devices other than mice/fingers; for example, a text-based web browser, or an older phone or game console with a WAP-style browser. Either way, cursor + select keys. –  fluffy Apr 11 '13 at 21:01
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Select, to me, sounds strongly like choosing among options, as in a dropdown menu. But I agree, "click" has a more universal meaning. In this instance, "click" is a metaphor, perhaps a sort of skeuomorphism: you are either clicking the physical button of a mouse, or clicking the virtual button on the screen. –  tajmo Apr 12 '13 at 5:23

Select or Press

Just thinking about it from the perspective of the item. It will be selected/pressed by either the user's finger or the mouse cursor. Either of those work.

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Technically pressing is what you are doing on both occasions so press does seem much clearer and concrete. –  uxzapper Apr 12 '13 at 0:15
    
@uxzapper but what about voice control then? –  Koen Lageveen Apr 12 '13 at 6:56
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"by either the user's finger or the mouse cursor" = as Koen hints at, there are many more ways to interact with a device than the physically pressing. Voice control, eye tracking, gestures, motion sensing, etc. –  DA01 Apr 12 '13 at 20:53
    
+1 for Press, though I think Select is more ambiguous as discussed above. –  vincebowdren May 24 '13 at 10:12

Silly comments

I'm a Spanish speaker, and this question comes from a prestigious member wearing the "GB" letters in his name, so I'm intimidated. But anyway ...
In Spanish, quite informally almost humorously, I use the verb picar that means to beak. Mouse pointers and fingers behave like birds while eating.
Now I realize that this silly word pictures both actions.

Serious comment

What I wouldn't use is select, which was nominated several times above.
To me select is what happens immediately after you beak on a Windows icon (for example): it changes it appearance in order to look as a selected icon.

My answer

In some IT applications there are property sets that contain, among other data, some word for items.
Like for example the word for scripted actions is "sh" in *NIX, "bat" in PC DOS, "job" in mainframe.
Web apps can be sent a property bag with words for things that are slightly different in the various clients, and do replacements after having recognized the media.
Thus, in UIs equipped with touch screens (not necessarily mobile) the name of the thing would be tap while in mouse-operated UIs click.
Something like i18n, isn't it?

This is not to say that it's possible to do a knee-jerk replacement of every "click" by a "tap". The replaceable instances must be carefully tagged.
Also, if the UI was going to be translated, English is a best scenario where click can be used as a noun and several verbal forms too. It's not so in Spanish where you would need several words.

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To "beak" would translate, I think, to "peck." I like it. –  Ken Mohnkern Jun 4 '13 at 19:49

Both "select" and "choose" have worked well in usability tests I've done.

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What context was it tested in? –  rk. Apr 20 '13 at 21:24
    
Good question. Both with B2C web sites a couple of times (when we were moving from copy with explicit "click" instructions since it was causing confusion when were testing on non-mice devices). –  adrianh Apr 21 '13 at 9:59

Press (you either press the mouse button to click on a link, or you directly press the display if it's a touch device)

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We expect answers which provide a new viewpoint through reasoning or research, could you provide that to your answer? –  Pesikar Apr 12 '13 at 12:28
    
Press usually means a longer tap, so already has a different meaning. –  JohnGB Apr 12 '13 at 19:46
    
Correct, "press" is the right term, although it's often misused in place of "press and hold" but that will soon iron itself out. –  obelia Apr 13 '13 at 3:22

Both click and tap are supposed to mimic the same thing from the real physical world, which is the action of using a button on a keyboard or a light switch to mention some. Tapping is fairly new and came to life and became popular with the emergence of touch controls, where the word “click” seems to be a bit off. Your actually tapping the screen, not hitting the enter button on the keyboard or a mouse button to control a non-physical button on the screen.

There are two ways to look at this problem. Either you disregard the fact what you use in the physical word and only use click, since you’re clicking a virtual button. Or you keep on relying on the use of the physical real world where click would refer to keyboard or mouse and tap would refer to touch interface.

My advice would be to only use click, and focus on the virtual environment on the screen.

enter image description here

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One thing I've run into with 'click' is that developers sometime literally translate that into something like an onClick event. The problem is that they may then attach it to a div and suddenly there's no way to 'select' it via a keyboard because you can't tab to it. That SHOULDN'T be a UX problem, as the dev team really should understand the full spectrum of how users interact with the code, but I find 'select' helps a little in communicating that better than 'click'. –  DA01 Apr 12 '13 at 21:56

I've had this on my mind often, too. Until I see something better, I'm of the position that the two terms should not be co-presented, nor should we use a common word.

What is one word that can be used to describe a bark or a meow?

Here's why:

One word would convey that the communication wasn't prepared for the audience that is hearing it.

The core issue is one of agency. A tap is embodied. A click has agency through a proxy. The mapping of the agency (mouse) is what inhibits using a single word.

Further, a person using a tablet has access to interactive gestures that are not available to the desktop (mouse -> click). The text should address the user's context.


It follows the same pattern as printing "they received the package" instead of "he received the package" or "she received the package". Many people will print 'they' because they want to skirt the issue that they don't know the context about which they're speak. If we came up with a platform-neuter word, we would only further avoid writing for the context of the reader.

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"The text should address the user's context" = while true, it's less than ideal in the world of interaction documentation. If we're building a responsive site and I have to write separate interaction notes for clicking vs. tabbing vs. tapping, it's going to cause a whole lot more problems with documentation overload. –  DA01 Jul 30 '13 at 14:52
    
@DA01 your convenience is the users' pain. Remember that –  New Alexandria Jul 30 '13 at 17:30
    
I'm not sure what you mean. How is creating a device-agnostic solution painful for the user? That's a benefit for the user. It appears you're implying that different devices and different users should require different UIs? –  DA01 Jul 30 '13 at 17:37
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oh! Wait...I think I see the confusion. The OP isn't clear on this: Are we talking about the terminology we use internally, or are we talking about the terminology we use with the end-user? That...COULD make a difference. That said, I'd still argue for an agnostic term as we simply can't or don't know what the user's preferred interaction method will be. The purpose of a lot of web solutions is to be agnostic in that regard. –  DA01 Jul 30 '13 at 17:40
    
So, an agnostic example: "select the item". A co-presented example: "Click or tap or tab (or use any other number of assistive pointing devices) to the item". I see the argument for the latter, but I don't agree that it'd be a better experience for the end-user. –  DA01 Jul 30 '13 at 17:41

"Hit" would be a good fit. You can hit something directly with your hand or indirectly with a cursor.

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It is a good suggestion but for some reason to me it has a negative feel to the word. Since hit is predominantly used for meaning violence. –  rk. Apr 18 '13 at 14:38
    
I like this, though it is on the informal side. "To vote for your favourite song, hit the button" sounds fine, but "To download your medical records, hit the button" seems incongruous. –  Bennett McElwee Jul 30 '13 at 23:38

Click or Tap strikes me more useful as actions, or the words to describe choosing an action. I click the Home button on my iPhone to bring me to the Home Screen. I tap an app icon to launch the icon. In your example, clicking or tapping an item is choosing to press some button or graphic or ticking a box. As someone else mentioned, the UI will make it clear what it is the user is choosing to do.

Place the word you wish to use within the graphic which requires the action. So if after filling in a form the user has to "Submit" the information, place a button with the word "Submit" and instruct the user to press the "Submit" button. You could in fact also use the word "Choose": If you are ready to submit your information, choose the 'Submit' button.

If there are options to choose from, same idea; use the actual word in a graphic which the user has to 'choose", i.e.: Choose which job descriptions suits you best - followed by buttons with the choices written inside them.

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So the immediate options are Select, Press or Choose, but I believe there would be few mobile users who would not understand Click

Optimally, you have desinged for the device... meaning everything about the user experience has been designed for the platform its being interacted with (goes to the core of the argument against responsive design) However, not every project can be developed this way.

I would choose from these options based on context. Interesting question - how technology changes the nomenclatures of UI.

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It's a pity "clap" is already taken.

Maybe "click/tap". Is that simpler or more complex than "click or tap"?

I find "click or tap" the lesser of two evils (more decision-making vs new term that is probably more ambiguous and less precise) because it uses two highly automated and contextual behaviors.

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I playfully suggested 'clap' as a good term in chat. It isn't currently used as a transitive verb, so it wouldn't be confused given context. –  JohnGB Apr 12 '13 at 7:57
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Oddly, enough, the inverse portmanteau would be better: "tick". 'Ticking a box' is a common expression throughout the EU, and a 'tick' action somehow feels similar to both a mouse click, and a tap. –  New Alexandria Apr 12 '13 at 13:56
    
It's setting a precedence, though. Ideally you'd list out all ways to interact which can get silly. Click or Tap or Press Return or etc. –  DA01 Apr 12 '13 at 20:56
    
@JohnGB point of order: "Clap" can be intransitive (They clap) or transitive (They clap their hands). But you're right in saying that context would make it clear. –  Bennett McElwee Jul 30 '13 at 23:40

The WinRT XAML framework for Windows 8 apps calls it "press" as in "[a] pointer device initiates a Press action". But this is jargon and might not be suitable for users.

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What about Interact? It's a much broader term but it depends how specific you need to be.

I must admit I cant think of a term without an issue

  • Select could = select(highlight) like you would with text.
  • Tick could = tick box
  • check could = check box

Would it be terrible to continue using "click/tap"?

What about "strike", although you may end up with people hitting their devices a little too hard!

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The button or link should already speak for itself.

I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned before, but why not omit the word entirely? The link or button should already indicate it is interactive, so the content should represent the action to perform when clicked or tapped. For example, instead of saying "Click to send me an email," or "Tap to check out," one would be more concise to just say "Send me an email" or "Check out." Not only does it become medium-agnostic, but the text will more specifically spell out what the item will do. Furthermore, SEO will be more accurate as well, as the link will more appropriately match the title of the next page or content.

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Buttons mirror a real world button hence you should use the real world term. eg for buttons I would use Press

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Technically, Click refers to a selection from any input-device.

Computers. the act of rapidly depressing and releasing a button on a mouse or other input device, usually the left-hand button, as to select an icon.

Dictionary.com

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Touching the screen means there is no button on the input device. There actually is no input device –  Jason T Featheringham Jun 21 at 1:16
    
The input device is the screen. But you could refer to this as an input method. –  Aaron Benjamin Jun 24 at 0:52
    
Agreed, but since the screen doesn't have a button to click, the definition doesn't apply. –  Jason T Featheringham Jun 24 at 2:22
    
The screen is the button in the same way a track pad is a button. –  Aaron Benjamin Jun 24 at 13:08
    
A trackpad is not always a button, but only when it can be physically pressed down (physically moved from one state to another via pressure). A screen is never a button, . Thus, click does not hold. –  Jason T Featheringham Jun 26 at 5:35

I suggest the word "tick"

it's a t(ap) and (cl)ick and is perfect for both I think :)

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Well, Tick already has a meaning in the UI world. i.e. to 'tick a checkbox' so to give it a second meaning is just adding to the confusion in my opinion. Also, I think the fact you had to add in a line of explanation means it's not going to be ideally suitable to general users though. –  JonW Apr 12 '13 at 14:38
    
It is also used as 'select' a checkbox. –  rk. Apr 22 '13 at 15:48

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