Are these terms 'Database', 'Record', 'Table', 'Field', 'Row', and 'Column' too technical (or even relevant) for a normal online banking application user, especially when talking to a customer service executive over phone?

I understand that it could vary from context to context, but I am not sure how to see this objectively and find out where to draw the line. A banking website would anyways have many technical terms which a normal person is not likely to understand without putting extra effort.

If not, then what would be appropriate alternative terms for 'Database', 'Record', 'Table', 'Field', 'Row', and 'Column'?

  • If they don't understand the concept of a database, ask them if they've ever looked up a number in a printed phone book. – Alan B Feb 5 '13 at 11:13
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    "especially when talking to a customer service executive over phone?" - who's talking to this CSE, and what's the nature of the conversation? – AakashM Feb 5 '13 at 13:40
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    Why would the end user of a consumer banking application ever need to hear about its database structure? – Matt Obee Feb 5 '13 at 18:06
  • Those concepts are very straightforward and even common sense. You look differently at them because you know there are complex logics behind them. Users don't understand your application logic, but they understand the meaning of these words. – shuangwhywhy Feb 6 '13 at 23:10
  • perhaps column header or column title instead of field. I don't think common users would interpret field correctly. But the others they should know since they put Microsoft Excel on their Resume. – Mallow Jun 25 '14 at 18:40

Following on Benny's answer, I would recommend trying to find the term that relates to the goal of the user (in some circles know as "business terms"). Perhaps by "Record" you mean "transaction", and by "Database" you mean "Transaction History" (just for example).

Of course these terms are also technical, but they relate to the technicality of the realm of the application and the user who is trying to use it. It's way better to educate for these terms, as it might benefit the users in many more ways than teaching them about computer-related technical terms. To achieve this, I really recommend context-sensitive-help.

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    +1 for focusing on the goal of the user rather than limiting oneself around the technicality of the artefacts. – AndroidHustle Feb 5 '13 at 11:15

No! It can never be wrong to use the correct word anywhere. However, as in all communication, using a technical, special word not known for "average Joe" (whoever that might be) may require explanation. Thus the one using the technical word should be prepared for the event that the message transferred in the communication might be misunderstood or not understood at all.

It is the responsibility of the one using the technical term in communication to verify that the message is understood correct. That might lead to other sets of words than those described above.

The words table, field, record, column and row are fairly simple words which could be used without excessive explanation. Instead of database the phrase saved data or saved records may be used since it's probably not relevant where data is saved, just the fact that it is saved.


Is database too technical a term for user?

No, most users should be able to conceive easily the concept of structured data storage.

The problem however is not about using technical terms. The problem is, why is your customer service chatting about your database structure in detail with end users. The terms being used should be what "pages" the user is on, which "table" they are looking in the page, what "transactions" does not look right, etc. These are the stuffs that the customer can see and care about.

Some off-hand remarks like, "let me check in our database", "the issue you're experiencing seems to be caused by a faulty data in our database", "your transactions is stored in our database", etc is fine. However, there should be no need for the customer to understand how your data is stored in the database as fields and records and rows and columns, those are internal knowledge.

  • +1 your last paragraph is quite relevant and almost hits the bulls eye. Thanks for clarifying them as 'Off-hand remarks' – gurvinder372 Feb 6 '13 at 4:17

Like Lie Ryan, I think that the users should not be exposed to technical issues.
Once upon a time, to ride a car one needed to be an expert mechanic. Over time, cars evolved and now drivers are isolated from the intricacies of the thermodynamics of the internal combustion motors, let alone the complex electronics in current cars, cars that anybody can drive.
Computers have evolved too, but IMO not that much.
Public access applications, like home banking systems, should be usable without any IT knowledge on the side of the user.
If the application is about banking, the user should need to know about deposit, withdrawal, transfer, whatever, but not database or columns.
The phrase technical terms which a normal person is not likely to understand without putting extra effort somehow implies that the user must or should put extra effort to understand issues that belong to the realm of the IT people, like us.
As IT pros we must provide the users a UI (including help and support) designed for the users, not for Sheldon Cooper (I'm boldly exaggerating here, but you get the idea).
Consider, for example, the historic difference between Macs and PCs: you needed to know a lot of technical gibberish to set 14Kb modem in a Windows PC, while anybody was enabled to do it in a Mac.
Design like the Mac, and you will get users as committed as those of the Mac. And by design I don't mean beauty but usability.


The main problem with most IT terms is that they are not technical enough: they are all wildly ambiguous. For instance, the term "database" can refer to: a make of DBMS, an installed instance of a DBMS, a database with contents present within such an instance, contents such as stored in such a database, an end-user application based on such a database that can be used to show and modify its contents, an on-screen representation of contents of the database as a table, etc. etc. etc.

Hence, a careful choice of terms is only a small step towards mutual understanding. Communication is a two-way phenomenon. Always be prepared for potential misunderstandings, explain things when necessary and ask things when you're not sure you understand, and make sure the other party does the same.

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