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I'm trying to list the what various keys do inside the documentation for my CLI program, but I'm not sure what to refer to this key as. It is commonly referred to as either Enter or Return, but which is considered better UX? I was going to list it as Enter/Return, but that seems sloppy.

A Google search seems to indicate that Enter is more prevalent. However, my laptop gives different results - while having both enter and return on it, return is printed in larger text on the key and is placed closer on the key to the user.

How should I refer to this key?

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just be consistent – DA01 Mar 22 '14 at 19:29
up vote 13 down vote accepted

To be frank, only a selected few are aware that the Enter and Return keys are not the same - whether you refer to it as Enter or Return, users will press either buttons (if they have both buttons). This is due to the fact that on very few software products the Enter and Return keys do different things (Avid's Pro Tools is the only example I can give).

My own experience is that Enter is a more popular name; "Press the return key" sounds odd, while "Press Enter" sounds natural. I fail to see anyone to whom you'll say "Press Enter" going "Hu?", while I can imagine this happening if you'll say "Press Return". But that's just me and based on my own subjective experience; perhaps in Norway they use Return more than Enter. However, as you said, a search for "Press Enter" on Google yields 15 million results, while "Press Return" yields less than a million.

If I had been you I wouldn't worry about it so much and use Enter.


The term Return is a shorthand for Carriage Return.

Originally, the term carriage return referred to a mechanism or lever on a typewriter. It was used after typing a line of text and caused the assembly holding the paper (the carriage) to return to the right so that the machine was ready to type again on the left-hand side of the paper.

Source: Wikipedia.

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The extra trivia is quite interesting and clarifies the origins - thanks for returning (hah, get it?) to add it! – DaimyoKirby Mar 24 '14 at 4:09
Many keyboards combine both "enter" and "return" into the same button. Here's one:… – Pdxd Mar 24 '14 at 18:49
Just a random note, Photoshop differentiates when editing text between [Enter] as a line break / carriage return, where-as the [Return] button commits your text. Just noting because Adobe's tools are a bit more widely used, and it might even be useful for some people to hear about this. – Dirk v B Mar 25 '14 at 21:47

"Enter key" is a more popular choice than "Return key". According to Google ngrams.

enter image description here

I'd therefore write "Press Enter" unless I could be certain that the users have a specific keyboard with a specific label on the key want them to use.

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What is the target platform for your CLI application? This should guide your decision.

Enter is more common on non-Apple keyboards.

Return is the standard for Apple keyboards with 'enter', as you point out, sometimes written about the key.

A third incarnation is simple using an icon on the key:

enter image description here

If you use a single word to describe the key, you should use the label used most often for your target platform. 'Enter' for Windows/Unix, 'Return' for OSX.

You could also, in the introduction to your instructions, place the phrase similar to:

The 'Enter'/'Return' key, hereinafter referred to as the 'Return' key.

... or 'Enter', depending on your target platform.

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Expanding slightly on what Evil Closet Monkey said, the key on the right of Apple keyboards is unambiguously the return key. Some older Apple keyboards, and the current Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, have a separate enter key.

You can type enter using the combination fnreturn.

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