I do like to place tooltips whenever I feel that the user could benefit from them.

I tend not to place tooltips on controls when I think it's pretty obvious what their effects are.

However, on some instances, I like to place tooltips kind of guiding the user, advising them on non-trivial side effects and giving general tips like:

By clicking on this, a new XPTO will also be created.


Don't forget you can also do XYZ or XPTO.

However, lately I've started thinking that, if I just place tooltips on some controls and not on others, users will be confused because I've started a pattern (i.e. placing tooltips on controls) which I sometimes do not heed.

I also think that, perhaps, users will become used to having tooltips and will miss them if they're not always there.

Is there any consensus on this topic? If I can't put tooltips on all controls, should I avoid placing them on any at all?


5 Answers 5


I think the best solution would be to have a clear indication which controls have tooltips and which don't.

For example, you could add a tiny "?" next to these controls (or any other method that works for you and your users).

Not only will this clarify to your users which controls have a tooltip, but will also surface potentially hidden functionality: you describe potential side effects that a user in a hurry might miss by just pressing the control and not allowing enough time for the tooltip to appear).

  • 1
    Good answer. But, I'd also add that some controls, because of their design, may be "uglified" by the addition of the little question mark. In such cases, I'd recommend putting a tooltip on all controls of that type to present consistent behavior, even if the "tip" is trivial.
    – svidgen
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 19:47
  • 2
    Not always feasible; imagine placing (?) icons on all controls which have a tooltip on this page; the clutter becomes excessive. I don't think it's worth it in many situations.
    – Zelda
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 22:02
  • I sort of agree with the above two comments
    – Fractal
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 20:31

In tooltips we expect to see a brief explanation of the control's function.
Any other information does not belong to the tooltip but to local help.

The tooltip usually contains a verb, like delete the XYZ or open account.
Not all controls need a tooltip, in fact it's annoying when there are too many, too obvious, tooltips. I remember having used applications that allowed the user to turn tooltips off altogether.
The tooltip helps the user to reassure herself about if the control she is planning to click really does what she thinks it does.
Think of briefly labeled buttons operated by foreign users, who might not fully understand the meaning of an abbreviated label.

Additional information and suggestions belong to local help.
It is a button (like @Dan suggested) that unfolds a container with more detailed information about what the related control is supposed to do.
Again, not all controls deserve a local help artifact.
The pattern I like more is respecting the user. Not patronizing, not explaining the obvious, giving enough and useful information.
Which stems from your question, BTW.

  • +1, I really like the pattern "respecting the user". Agree having tooltips on everything has downsides. Also tooltips could sometimes be intrusive because they cover up the content and require moving the mouse to get rid of them, especially, if the tip has a large area. Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 18:35
  • +1 too. The worst tooltips are those repeating the text in the control. From the MS UX guidelines: 'Tooltips may also provide more detail for labeled toolbar buttons if doing so is helpful. Don't just repeat or give a wordy restatement of what is already in the label.' MS UX on tooltips Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 20:28
  • No. Take the example of successful sites, like this one. Hover over the edit link on an answer, or the add comment link (not the button, which is a distinctly different type of control). As moronically obvious as these actions are, they have non-patronizing tooltips. And as stated in my comment on Dan Barack's, if a good number of controls of type X have a tooltip, be consistent. The Add Comment buttons need no tip. They're buttons: used across the site for form submission, requiring no further explanation.
    – svidgen
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 22:38

Another advantage to @Dan Barak's idea of using a "?" to show the tooltip is that touch devices (smart phones, tablets, etc), which don't have a hovering mouse, can still view the tip.


Consistency is one goal, but it's not always your number one goal.

If the utility of "sometimes have a tooltip" outweighs the utility of "user is confused because tooltip isn't available", then do that.

A quick sanity check with an actual user can help figure out if inconsistent tooltips will be a problem. My suspicion is that they will be just fine, but that you'll be surprised about some of the places users expect them. (Whether they need them in all those places is up to you to discern.)


I have seen a tool tip appear on most of the controls/buttons which have a certain action unless they are very obvious but only when the user holds the mouse over the button for one or two seconds longer than usual. This helps new users who would be looking for a hint about what the control does and can be seen as an ideal way to keep the not so new users who are familiar with the control/button's action from getting annoyed seeing the tool tip every time.

Also as Dan suggests a "?" could be used which, when clicked on, would display a brief description of the control. As far as I remember there has been software which had these "?" which could be dragged and dropped on a button to pop up a brief tool tip, which seems more ideal to than having a "?" next to every button.

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