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In our web application we try to give explicit instructions of what to do or to type if the user desires so.

One of our tips looks like Click or type /r to respond. If /r followed by a space is typed the entire phrase is replaced by /whisper <username>.

Yet, this replacement does not occur if one drops the terminal space, which might lead to confusion. I typed /r and nothing really happens. What now?.

One approach was to add a middle dot · which shalt signify wor space. Hence, Click or type /r· to respond..

Should there be a middle dot? Will it cause bewilderment? Will users add a space intuitively? Are there completely different approaches?

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Why not take another route and change what the user can actually type in to trigger this function - instead of a space triggering it then why not go for a - or an underscore _? That way the user can deliberately choose what they want to type without any confusion. /r_ vs /r –  JonW Aug 30 '13 at 8:38
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The tip as it stands isn't clear as to the exact usage of /r, to me at least. Do users type \r and then a message to respond? (such as \r I agree, the UX SE is the best!), or is it \r SomeGuy101 to be replaced by \whisper SomeGuy101? –  Kai Aug 30 '13 at 9:53
    
@Kai Exactly, /r is replaced with /whisper SomeGuy . Afterwards follows the actual message. –  Michael Aug 30 '13 at 13:39
    
So if I typed /r hello!, this would be replaced with /whisper SomeGuy hello!? –  Kai Aug 30 '13 at 13:51
    
@Kai if you type '/r ' it is immediately replaced by '/whisper SomeGuy '. So yes, it does :) –  Michael Aug 30 '13 at 19:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'm assuming that the full usage is /r <message>, but this answer also applies if it's /r <username>, or /r <username> <message>.

You could put the space followed by a placeholder - I'd recommend typing the instructional part in one font, and the actual code to type in a fixed-width font which will make the space more clearly visible:

Click or type /r [message] to respond

This should make it evident to users that a space is required, and what they're then expected to follow /r with. You'll have to be careful that the brackets notation for a placeholder doesn't confuse users (they may think they actually need to type the brackets around their message), but you could consider as alternatives:

Click or type /r message to respond

Removes the brackets, but produces ambiguity over whether message is a placeholder or needs to be typed. You may be able to avoid this by making the message part stand out:

Click or type /ryour_message to respond

You could also potentially highlight the space - for example, /r and message could be highlighted in green, whilst the space between them is highlighted in yellow, to make it stand out without printing a character, but this could cause accessiblity issues with colorblind users.

One last idea: make /r [message] clickable - the physical underline under the phrase (assuming your styling underlines links) will further highlight the space, and clicking it will paste the command into the application ready for the user to add their message. They aren't likely to use it this way more than once, but it would clearly demonstrate the intended usage on their first try.

Finally, if there is room to do so, you can provide an example usage:

Click or type /r [message] to respond, for example:

/r hello!

Makes it clear that /rhello! is not the intended usage.

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Why do you use \r instead of /r ? –  Michael Aug 30 '13 at 13:39
    
Whoops, force of habit! Editted :-) –  Kai Aug 30 '13 at 13:50
    
It is totally of topic but I became curious: where do commands start with '\'? –  Michael Aug 30 '13 at 13:55
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I think I was specifically typing \r because I'm used to typing \r to find/replace carriage returns in notepad++ (its extended search mode uses it to denote that). And not a command per se, but windows uses \ rather than / in file paths: C:\Program Files\etc (not that / doesn't also work, but \ is the standard) which I'm most used to using. I think muscle memory just has \ encoded in my brain for anything semi-technical :P –  Kai Aug 30 '13 at 14:02
    
There are other places I've used it too, but none spring to mind. –  Kai Aug 30 '13 at 14:05

Do all commands end with a space? Do they have to end with a space? Why is the space necessary? Could or should the programming be altered so that /r is recognised as a unique valid command?

If the space is really necessary, tell the user that. But don't use a non-standard symbol, which the middle-dot is.

Click or type /r followed by a space to respond.

A common symbol in coding is to use something like ˽ but even that isn't going to mean much in a message:

Click or type /r˽ to respond.

Or: choose a different terminal character so that it can be explicitly stated easily.

Click or type /r* to respond.

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Good points. I was going to suggest the open box character myself, but that only really works when it's a separator between two other words / characters, not when it is at the end of the string. The same is going to be the case with any visual representation of a space. Telling the user in words is a far better way to go if a space is required. –  JonW Aug 30 '13 at 8:42

The simplest way might to be enclose the command in quotes. Type "/r " to respond. There is still the chance people will miss the space, but it's a pretty common convention, and generally people know not to include the quotes.

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