Error/ success messages in web apps.

Material design writing style, recommends to be simple and direct.

Here's an example they give:

enter image description here

The advice is easy to follow in one-sentence messages. But what about two-sentence messages?

Here's how I write one-sentence messages:

File downloaded/ File not downloaded

Payment successful

Message sent

What is the best way to write two-sentence messages?

File not downloaded. The download was stopped or interrupted by another file download.


File was not downloaded. The download was stopped or interrupted by another file download.


File not downloaded. Download stopped manually or interrupted by another file download.


The sentence above is just one example. There are many other two-sentence messages in the ui, structured this way:

Problem stated. Explanation of what went wrong or/and what can be done to fix this.

What is the best way to formulate those two sentences?

1) the first one as if it's a one-sentence message. the second one following all the grammar rules and in the right tense form.

2) both sentences should follow all the grammar rules and should be used in the right tense form. (the concern here is that the one-sentence messages would differ. wouldn't that be considered as a different style?)

  • Download stopped or interrupted by another file also implies the downloading was canceled, so you can omit the first part of your message. Dec 8, 2017 at 14:00
  • @Wanda seems reasonable) it's probably just a bad example, please look at my update, maybe you'll have some more suggestions :)
    – Oksi
    Dec 8, 2017 at 16:29

4 Answers 4


Generally, the "Problem stated" part of your message should be displayed as a section heading, with explanatory text below in a paragraph. This structure appears in the Material HIG examples:

enter image description here

The terse grammar used for the headings is referred to as "headlinese". It doesn't tend to be used in paragraph text. If you absolutely need to present the two sentences on the same line, you can:

a) make the first sentence look visually distinct so it's clear that it's a headline (e.g. black bold font for the heading, lighter regular font for the body)

b) use standard grammar for the first sentence and make both sentences look like one paragraph

That said, the guidelines recommend "being essential", so think about whether you really always need two sentences.


Display two-sentence messages in two sizes. enter image description here


The first thing that comes to my mind is that in the 2 sentence messages you are repeating the message. The download has been interrupted therefore it wasn't downloaded.

My suggestion: Interrupted/stopped by another download

  • probably just a bad example. please, do not pay attention to the meaning of the message. I'm confused by the style consistency. Any ideas which of the suggested styles is better to follow in two-sentence messages?
    – Oksi
    Dec 8, 2017 at 16:23
  • Both stopped (manually) and interrupted by another download are different processes. Do you think I should add manually for more clarity?)
    – Oksi
    Dec 8, 2017 at 16:26
  • I don't think that the wording "manually" adds a lot of value in this case as it can be misinterpreted. You do not necessarily need to stick with a two-sentence message if you can explain the issue in one. I hope it makes sense. Dec 9, 2017 at 16:54
  • I do understand what you mean. But it's not my question. Maybe the given example is not the best one. But I'm asking how to properly keep up with the chosen style in two-sentence messages.
    – Oksi
    Dec 11, 2017 at 8:32
  • Then in that case: Title + Brief description Dec 11, 2017 at 9:37

Tin man is correct re: the formatting. I think that approach is best.

However, the copy of the message should be in the active voice as much as possible, avoiding "File was not downloaded." I understand when referring to the cause of the error/ issue, companies don't want to take blame (and apologizing may not be part of the company error message tone/ style), but the more active voice the better.

Your file didn't download. OR File didn't download.

Also, error messages should include some indication of a solve or a way to contact/ message someone for help whenever possible.

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