So I have been reading about Error messages guidelines and read almost every post on here about error messages. One main point I agree 100% with is that an error message should mostly contain two parts:

(1) Advice users on the solution

(2) Point out the issue.

Now, how should be the structure of the message be? Point out the issue, then solution or vice versa? Does it make any difference?

Check out this simple example that I am working on now:

The current design

Two suggestions are:

Please try another name, this name is already taken


This name is already taken, please try another name

So should we tell the user what to do first because there is an issue? Or tell users about the issue then what to do about it?

Any idea if one is superior to the other? If one sounds less negative than the other? Or no difference going with either one?



Three arguments:

1- It is an error message. Hence, it should explicitly state the error, and then improve it by providing a solution or alternative options (There is an issue, here is what to do).

e.g. "This name is already taken, please try another name"

2- Start by providing the solution, then explicitly state the error is a more inviting and less aggressive form of an error message.

e.g. "Please try another name, this name is already taken"

3- Providing the solution that implicitly tells the error is also less aggressive and more inviting. It is somehow like if you say to a user (do this, it is okay there was an issue).

e.g. "Please enter a name that is not already taken"

I am wondering if different forms / arguments could suit different applications (e.g. entertainment applications vs financial applications)?

1 Answer 1


In order to make it faster for the users to react to a error message, it would be preferable to use the second form:

This name is already taken. Please try another name.

This way, as soon as the user reads the first part, he may guess that he needs to change the name and stop reading. If he's clueless what to do when the take is already in use, then he continues reading the second part which suggests a possible action.

The first form forces the user to read it entirely. “Please try another name” alone doesn't give a clue about what's happening here. The immediate reaction is: “Why? What's wrong with the name I typed?”—and in order to answer that, the user has to continue reading.

Moreover, a suggestion of a possible solution is just that: a suggestion. This means that it may be the solution the user will chose, but in some cases, it won't. For instance:

Please, check your connection. The application was unable to communicate with the service.

on a mobile device makes sense in many cases, but in some others, the suggestion could just be perceived as stupid. For instance, what if I turned off the network intentionally?

There might be counterexamples, but I couldn't find one yet. The errors I can think of, such as “The Wi-Fi connection was down.” or “The file doesn't exist.” or “The password in the second field should be the same as in the first one.” seem all to be at a good place at the beginning, not the end.

  • This explanation kind of sounds nice, but do you have any evidence that this is actually how users process error messages like these? Just claiming that a particular variant is more easy to process because you can argue why it should be easier is very often a fallacy. Predicting and explaining human behavior is, after all, a very tricky issue.
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 7:59
  • @Schnuddi: no, I don't have any reference to psychological studies on the matter. However, there would probably be no objections that (1) persons read English sentences from left to right and (2) as soon as they have read what matters to them, they are able to skip the remaining part of the sentence. My answer is basically based on those two assertions. Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 12:22
  • There are two more assertions: (3) Users don't have enough information in the first form after "Please try another name", and thus read the rest. (4) Users have enough information in the second form after "This name is already taken", and thus skip the rest. How do you know that these assertions are also valid? Your answer makes non-trivial claims about "what matters to" your users, what their "immediate reaction" will be, and what they pick up as clues. Without any additional non-argumentative support I don't find them very compelling.
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 12:48
  • 1
    @Schmuddi: common sense. As simple as that. “Please try another name” may be for lots of reasons. For instance, you used a character which is not, for some reason, supported by the app. Or it's too long. Or... whatever. Therefore, continuing reading is essential: if the name is already taken, my action will differ from the case where the name I entered is too long, and those two would differ from what I would do if the name contains an invalid character. I thought the third paragraph of my answer was already explicit enough on this point; since it's not, do you have any suggestions? Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 20:53
  • @Schmuddi: about your fourth point, you misread my answer. I never asserted that users have enough information after the first part of the error message. If it was true, there would be no point in putting the second part. I'm afraid you haven't put enough attention when reading the second paragraph of my answer, which is, and that, I'm pretty sure, very clear in relation to your fourth point. Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 20:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.