The words that appear on the alert boxes are sometimes ambiguous. For example, if the task is to quit the application, then an alert box with the pair of choices "Quit" and "OK", or with "Cancel" and "Continue" are ambiguous, and can be taken either way. Are there better words that can be used unambiguously in wide variety of situations?

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    "Yes" - however it depends on the context. "Ok" and "Cancel" work very well in some situations and not so much in others. Ironically : your question is as ambiguous as the terminology you are trying to address. A specific example might yield better results. Jun 5, 2013 at 5:47
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    I came across a horrible example of this the other day. The dialogue that popped up when I was leaving a view read "The message will be discarded. Do you want to continue? [Yes] [No]". I actually clicked wrong, Yes took me back without quitting. Horrible CTA... Jun 5, 2013 at 6:57
  • basically .. just don't have alert boxes or "OK" boxes. It's an extremely old-fashioned idea.
    – Fattie
    Oct 16, 2015 at 22:18

3 Answers 3

"Do you really want to get answer to the question?"

so action buttons are either:



No/Not now/Cancel/Quit/Later sometime/Continue what I was doing

My point is that it depends on context also. So you need to choose right pair of positive and negative action label considering mood of the site/application. But the 'statement' for alert/message itself should be clear so that user will understand which will be positive and negative actions and will see the same below. They should compliment the purpose of the statement.

Thus 'Do you really want to do it?' will be very loosely framed statement which may be the starting point of confusion. If action button labels are not properly used, it adds to the confusion.

So designer should not rely ONLY on action button labels but statement/message should also be clearly conveyed.


I think you should have words suitable for every alert box. General ones usually do not work, but they are the standard: OK, and Cancel. Okay means do what you say you are going to do, cancel means take me back and do nothing...

For this example of closing an application, Quit and OK are not a pair, they both mean the same thing, and Continue and Cancel also both mean the same thing. So the right way to do is "Quit" and "Cancel"

You can be better by being more expressive, "Yes, quit application." "No, not yet."

Or "Quit application" "Take me back"

I suggest you stay away from "Continue" because continue really might mean "continue in quitting application"

  • "Yes, quit application." "No, not yet." "Quit application" "Take me back" don't add any clarity at all; they just force me to read more to understand the options.
    – user31143
    Jun 5, 2013 at 7:58
  • how is that? what more to read its just that what should appear to user.
    – Ayyash
    Jun 5, 2013 at 8:05
  • What information does "Yes, quit application." add compared to "Yes"? Nothing. But whereas "Yes" is instantly recognizable, if there are several words I have to actually read what it says.
    – user31143
    Jun 5, 2013 at 8:09
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    I agree with @dan1111. This might be a problem when I don't know the language, but I know simple words like "Yes", "no", "quit", "sure". If I have "blah mmpmm sure?" and the answers "blah blah blah blah" and "mmm mmmph mmmphmm" I really don't know what to do.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 5, 2013 at 8:34
  • @Voitcus I dont think language is the issue here. We are talking about operating systems here .. those can be multi-langual so user should not face issue at this level. It would have been solved earlier (by installing correct language OS for that user). Now lets assume its another web app or even a site, which is accessible to anyone (mostly). But even in this case we should not consider that small % of users having different language and accessing this app in another language. Design for probabilities and not for possibilities. Language can be changed using global options though.
    – Spicerjet
    Jun 5, 2013 at 10:12

My advice is never have an alert box that just asks someone whether they want to quit the application. This is perhaps the most annoying design decision in the history of computers, ever. Yes I want to close the app. Otherwise I wouldn't have clicked on the close button!

Asking "Are you sure you want to quit"? Is insulting to the user. Yet, it is amazing how many major software applications do this. Skype is a particular offender, requiring me to sign out, then click quit, then say that I am sure I really want to quit.

If there is unsaved data, you may need to have a dialog box that specifically asks about the unsaved data. "Do you want to save the file before closing?" with "Yes/No/Cancel" is one standard format that everyone should understand. Even then, though (depending on your specific use case) it may be better to auto-save the state so that you don't have to nag about it.

Please, please don't ask me if I am sure I want to exit!

(Rant over).

  • "Yes"/"No" is ok, but for the question "Do you want to save the file?" - "Cancel" makes no sense. What to cancel: Saving? Quitting? Changes?
    – Voitcus
    Jun 5, 2013 at 8:37
  • @Voitcus, "Cancel" cancels the quit operation. I think that is pretty clear: given that "Yes" and "No" are already there referring to saving the file, "Cancel" can only refer to cancelling the whole operation. Most importantly, Yes/No/Cancel in this situation is idiomatic and already used by many applications. It will be familiar to most users.
    – user31143
    Jun 5, 2013 at 8:52
  • I agree it is Cancel the quit. But it is not a valid answer to the question "Do you want to save?", only from lexical point of view.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 5, 2013 at 9:42
  • I think it would be enough "You are about to quit. Do you want to save data before closing application?" -- in this case "Cancel" should be right.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 5, 2013 at 10:05
  • @Voitcus, thanks, that was helpful. I agree that mentioning the closing operation in the dialog would help. I edited that in the answer.
    – user31143
    Jun 5, 2013 at 10:08

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