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I'm working on a set of guides to help users learn how to use our app. We want to show which guides are available and some data with each guide indicating how far you've gotten. The idea is that if we show this information and constantly remind you of it, you'll be more motivated to complete each one and learn more things about the app.

What we disagree on is how to format that information. Which is better: "You have completed 4/7 steps" vs "You have completed 57%"? Looking for data/metrics, not opinions.

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possible duplicate: ui.stackexchange.com/questions/3485/…. –  peterchen Mar 15 '11 at 16:46
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This question is different - we already accept that indicating progress increases engagement, but we're trying to figure out the specific details of how to format that. –  Rahul Mar 15 '11 at 17:07
    
@Rahul: the accepted answer IMO has what you are looking for: metrics (not just opinions) on different methods - apparently a nonlinear relative measurement has a slight advantage - see here: scribd.com/doc/2226848/Rethinking-The-Progress-Bar –  peterchen Mar 15 '11 at 22:15
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@Peterchen Go ahead and post that as an answer. These questions are related, but not exact duplicates, even if the same source is used to answer both of them. Someone who finds this question via a search engine should get an answer with a link to the source, not a link to a question with a link to three sources, one of which happens to have the answer buried within. –  Patrick McElhaney Mar 16 '11 at 10:01
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My probably wrong and completely un-researched opinion (and therefore a comment and not an answer) is that if it is complicated enough for percentage to make sense, you are probably in the realm of a form that is way too long and should conceptually be broken up (with incremental save) anyway. –  NickC Mar 17 '11 at 5:43
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6 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This paper discusses the effect of different relative progress bars that increase non-linearly with the actual progress:

Our results suggest that users are most willing to tolerate negative progress behavior (e.g., stalls and inconsistent progress) at the beginning of an operation. Hence, process stages can be arranged such that the slower or variable operations are completed first.

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I disagree with inflexibly applying the logic to use steps when there's no more than a few if each step takes a substantial amount of time to perform, or even if only the first step takes considerably longer than the remainder.

For example, if the action is divided into three steps, you're right to say it sounds less intimidating and more assuring than the unknown of a zero percentage value; as a result, the user is more likely to begin the process. However, once they've moved on to step one, their perception on estimated task time is no longer influenced by a number you gave (three steps) but by the content of the first step. So, if it's a lot of information to go through, then it's quite likely they'll assume that the steps that follow are equally time consuming; of course, they may be wrong in coming to that logical assumption. As a result, they could decide against proceeding.

The point being you don't want to mislead the user in any way in regards to the estimated time it will take for them to complete a process. Yes, if you tell them what you want to hear, then you gain their attention and increase the likelihood of their participation. But, remember, that is simply the means to an end. What you should be more interested in is getting them to complete the process. If you deceive them, it's true that they may actually decide they've invested so much time in the process that they may as well as complete it now. However, remember you also need to ensure the possibility of their future participation in other activities isn't weakened i.e. if you were honest about how easy/long it will take to complete process A, they're more likely to trust your word when you ask them to complete process B in the future.

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Which post are your referring to? –  Rahul Jun 4 '11 at 0:07
    
Adrian's. Sorry for not being more clear. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on other people's posts yet, and didn't realise answers can shift. –  Bredcrumbs Jun 4 '11 at 12:22
    
I upvoted you twice so now you have the rep to leave comments. Consider changing your answer to a comment on Adrian's post, or editing your answer to be a more direct answer and less of a comment. –  Rahul Jun 4 '11 at 12:36
    
Thanks very much Rahul! I've edited my post to make it a bit more general. –  Bredcrumbs Jun 4 '11 at 20:21
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I think it depends on the number of steps, if you have 10 steps it sounds a lot and you're better with percents. On a two-three stage action it sounds faster when you have 2-3 steps.

Of course this is based on my experience as a user only, haven't read anywhere such a compare.

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If all of the steps are equal in time/effort/complexity, steps make more sense. When step #1 requires watching a 20 min. video presentation, and the entire 5-step process can be done in 25 minutes it's not really 1/5 but more like 80%.

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+1. If steps are uneven in length you should give a true percentage -- % of effort, not % of steps. –  Monica Cellio Jun 2 '11 at 17:54
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Percentage should be used when a fine measure of progress is needed, or when the process is lengthy and you want to make sure the users are aware of any progress, small as it can be.

Steps are more appropriate when there is a small number of progression points, and when the time frame for the completion of each step is clear.

For example, file copy progress should use percentages. Completing a 3 page form should use a 3 step indicator.

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"should be used" - according to whom? –  Rahul Mar 16 '11 at 10:46
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You should use the percentage as the primary status indicator and append the number of steps to it to make it more motivating.

GENERIC EXAMPLE: You are 75% done. Only 3 more steps to go!

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This seems even more confusing than using one or the other, to me. Any proof that this works better? –  Rahul Mar 16 '11 at 10:46
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