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Is there a difference between the words 'modify' and 'edit'? I am creating a form that will allow users to make changes to their order - what should the call to action button name be - 'edit your order' or 'modify your order'. Is there any difference in the user expectations when they see either of the two names? Please let me know your thoughts.

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6 Answers 6

I believe that "edit" is pretty common in database applications. If you search for "edit", "modify" and "change" at iconfinder.com, you'll get more than 1000 hits for "edit" and only 4 hits for "modify" and "change".

That said, I always look at amazon.com when it comes to online shopping and managing orders. Over there they use "View, Modify, Track or Cancel an Order" and they use "Change Account Settings". If you open an order, they use "Change Delivery Address", "Change Payment Method", "Change Shipping Speed" etc...

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As this is an order for something I'd go with "modify your order".

It's the more natural English expression (at least in the UK!) and as such it reads better (to me).

"Edit" implies changing the "thing" - usually text - whereas "modify" is the more general term that applies to everything. You might be seeing more Google hits for "edit" as this usage has grown with the spread of computers and people's acceptance of the "edit" menu on most applications.

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I'd say it's a matter of context.

Edit is good for content, documents, text. (related to: editor, books, newspapers, mags).

Modify is good for tweaking a part of something, maybe text but it could be anything, maybe more visually related adjustments - eg modify shape rather than edit shape?

So - interestingly, you'd be likely to edit your document and modify the header of that document.

Change is good for a choice or a collection of things, like a shopping basket or an order, or for replacing an email address or a password for example. Witness the google search result count (ref @jbreckmckye's reply) for 'change your order' being 75 million.

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Thanks for your feedback - when it comes to changing numbers of orders (wonder if number is also called 'text'?) - is it editing an order or modifying an order? –  Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:50
    
Aha - That's interesting actually. I believe you would more likely change the content of the order, but modify (or change) the quantity of one item in the order. I would use the word change - it's more 'real world language'. Nobody edits or modifies their order when they are at the supermarket...they change it. –  Roger Attrill Jul 7 '11 at 20:15
    
Thanks all for sharing your thoughts. I did usability testing and the participants preferred 'Change your order'. –  Tara Jul 12 '11 at 0:14
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Users will recognize them as interchangeable, although 'edit' is the more common term. A google search for "edit your order" raises 52 million results, compared to 9.7 million for "modify your order".

Generally, though, you shouldn't worry which one you pick - just that you use it consistently.

One caveat: 'editing' is easy to convey visually with pen-and-pencil images. I don't know of any widespread alternative that fits 'modifying'. Another reason to prefer 'editing'.

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Thanks for feedback. It is a good idea to check google the word. It did not occur to me. –  Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:48
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Both of them mean to change something, but I see "modify" more often in a commerce setting and "edit" more often when talking about documents. So my gut feeling is that "modify" will seem more natural to your users, but you might want to look at some of your favorite commerce sites to see what they do.

"Change" is another word you might use.

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Thanks for your response. Yes it is for an ecom application - when it comes to editing an order - I see many popular websites referring to the button such as 'Edit' Cart. –  Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:46
    
If one word is used much more commonly in the places your users visit, you should go with that one absent a good reason not to. –  Monica Cellio Jul 7 '11 at 19:55
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I'm not a native english speaker, but what I can say is that I'd understand both. Looking at the definition I'd probably go with modify:

Edit:

  • Google Search: Prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.
  • wiktionary.org: To change a text, or a document.

Modify:

  • Google Search: Make partial or minor changes to (something), typically so as to improve it or to make it less extreme.
  • wiktionary.org: To make partial changes to.
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I am not a native English speaker either. I must have done this basic research myself before posting the question. Thanks for sharing. –  Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:44
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