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Scenario

After a user attempts to submit a form I am providing validation messages against any invalid fields. On one of those fields the user has gone over the max allowed character count.

Example

I have a text box called 'keyword' and it has a limit of 100 characters but they input 110, what is the best language to use to tell them what has gone wrong?

I have some examples below, is there better language to use?

  • "Keyword must not exceed 100 characters"
  • "Keyword must be no longer than 100 characters"
  • "Keyword can be at most 100 characters"
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Is the user made aware of that character limit before they submit, with a visible character counter perhaps? –  Matt Obee Jan 29 at 11:05
    
@MattObee yes in this particular scenario (Windows Desktop app) they will see a balloon on blur of the field stating the problem. If they submit still without correcting the problem they will see a red error message below the invalid field. Both forms of message (balloon and red error text) will have the same text. –  Dave Haigh Jan 29 at 11:08
    
It's the actual language of the messages i'm deciding upon –  Dave Haigh Jan 29 at 11:08
    
I ask because that's an error state that I would normally try to avoid. If there's a character limit on a field, the user should be aware of that before they start composing and not just on blur. I'd display a running counter, much like the one that appears when writing a comment on SE. That said, you would of course still need to return an error message (like the one you're asking about) if they ignore that information. –  Matt Obee Jan 29 at 11:17
    
@MattObee Have you ever seen an example of a character counter in Windows Desktop UI? I'm considering limiting the input of small text fields (try changing the computer description in control panel > system settings) as the user attempts to add more text they will get the balloon, and for larger text fields not limiting text input but having a character counter and showing the balloon on blur. –  Dave Haigh Jan 29 at 12:02
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2 Answers

Take a look at how Twitter did.

1 - The clearly display the amount of characters available. The user know instantly if he is within the limit as he type. 2 - If the user types beyond the limit, 2 visual cues are displayed (highlighting of the extra characters and character count is in red) also sumit is disabled.

I think they absolutely nailed it. Clear and easy for the user and bullet proof

Twitter screen shot

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It would be better if they changed the focus colour too. –  Sam Jan 29 at 12:24
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I think any of recommendations for the error message are fine. I would choose the 3rd one you presented since its shorter and written in a positive way i.e. "It can be" vs "It can't be".

However, Matt Obee's question is valid and I don't think you understood it. Instead of displaying an error message you should let the users know that limit before they even start writing.

Since you are imposing a limitation, you should either:

  • Not let users write more than 100 characters. This way, when they reach that limit, their input will not be added, making them understand the limit
  • Provide continuous feedback displaying (101/100 characters). This will let users know that have reached a limit but provide them a way to restructure their input to fit the limitation.

You can see an example of the second option when you make a comment in stackexchange.

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