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I have a checkbox on one of the pages i am designing. My original suggestion was to have this text "Click on the checkbox....". However the technical writer is saying it should be "Click in the checkbox"

What do you think is more accurate?

  • 1
    I prefer "Enable checkbox label" – peterchen Nov 6 '13 at 19:56
  • 7
    This sounds like an English usage question to me. – Robert Kaucher Nov 6 '13 at 20:53
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    How do I 'click' on my iPad? – DA01 Nov 6 '13 at 22:23
  • How about "Ensure the digitally checkable box has been transitioned to the binary 'checked' state" – MirroredFate Nov 7 '13 at 0:05
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is about English language usage and should be migrated to english.stackexchange.com – greenforest Nov 7 '13 at 9:10

10 Answers 10

30

"Check the box"? — Would probably be nearer to the real-world counterpart.

  • 1
    +1 Exactly what I thought when I saw the title of the question. =) – AndroidHustle Nov 7 '13 at 7:28
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A standard checkbox should be intuitive enough for users to understand that they have to click to mark it checked.

I'd also make the text associated with checkbox the click area as well so it's a bigger target than the checkbox itself.

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    +1 From an accessibility standpoint, there should ALWAYS be a label associated with the checkbox (so it's all clickable). – DA01 Nov 7 '13 at 21:43
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In vs. on? It doesn't matter. Both communicate the same thing.

Click? That's not accurate. Well, it's accurate if you use a mouse and a button. But what if you are on a touch device? Or what if I'm using my keyboard? Point being it should be a more neutral word than 'click'. I'd suggest 'select'. Which, btw, solves your previous conundrum as well:

"Select the checkbox"

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    even if the user uses a touch device it's obvious for him what "click" means – Lovis Nov 7 '13 at 11:06
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    @L.Mller obvious, but inaccurate. The big reason I try and avoid 'click' isn't so much for user documentation, but technical documentation. I've just ran into way too many developers that see 'click' and equate that to 'onclick' and completely forget to accommodate all the other ways to interact with a web page. As such, I try and use 'select' universally both for users and developers to emphasize the neutrality of the code. – DA01 Nov 7 '13 at 21:43
  • I never thought about that, makes totally sense – Lovis Nov 8 '13 at 6:49
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    To me, select means to click-and-drag my mouse to highlight the content. I might say select a color, but I wouldn't say select a checkbox. – toxalot Nov 9 '13 at 6:30
  • @toxalot I think that is but one way to select something. IMHO, you can select an icon, select a checkbox, select a drop down option, select a link, etc. – DA01 Nov 9 '13 at 16:31
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"Click on the checkbox" is probably both more natural and more accurate, however. For a computer interface, clicking "in" and "on" are the same thing. You are technically clicking "within the confines of a box." Clicking "on" something is simply an illusion, but it is a useful one. Additionally, a click is technically a mouse driven action, whereas a touch device would have a "tap", "touch", or "press" action.

Another thing to consider: a "checkbox" can also be called a "tickbox", depending on locale, so a more universal approach might be to say "mark the box" as the "box" should be obvious and you are unquestionably "marking" it in some way, regardless of whether you mark it with a "tick" or a "check". The semantics of "check" vs. "tick" are rather interesting and might be relevant to this question.

  • +! because while I completely disagree with the choice of 'on', the rest of the answer is largely what I'd have written. The Wikipedia page that is linked to has one semantic risk. It suggests "tick off" is synonymous with "check off" but to "tick off" has two very different meanings in UK English - to mark, typically as 'completed', and to scold. – Cheeseminer Nov 7 '13 at 14:53
  • That's very true about the meanings. I didn't catch that when I linked it, but maybe that Wikipedia page is due for an edit now. I was just hoping to show that semantics should be a huge consideration in UX. And honestly, I probably wouldn't use "on" either. – justin Nov 7 '13 at 17:35
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You have to - of course - click on the checkbox, but the mouse needs to be inside the checkbox. But that is not even important. It should state what the user needs to do. Therefore I'd say "Select checkbox". More text would simply confuse the user and add extra (unnecessary) time to their user experience.

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Click in the checkbox suggests that you can't click the border. The whole thing can be clicked so I would choose for click on the checkbox.

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Checkboxes are intuitive enough for the user to understand that he should click them.

That means, the best approach would be to leave out that instruction text entirely. This would make it more clean, less distracting.

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Checkboxes are intuitive enough and user understands that they need to select it if they want to proceed or avail or something is there which is relevant to them.

Instead of focusing on "click on the checkbox" or "click in the checkbox", we need to put emphasize on the associated instructional message and its proximity with the checkbox.

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Hm, as far as being intuitive...

How about this?

Click the checkbox and completely remove "in" and "on". :)

Although of course, that's referring to the fact that the user is using a desktop application of some sort, which provides them the ability to click.

.. I suppose select the checkbox would work just as well.

Edit: I think Terry is on to something there. Checkboxes, if you think about them, really are intuitive enough all on their own, to the point where instruction text may not even be needed.

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"Check the box", as suggested is open to confusion as the word 'check' can also refer to 'verify'.

A technical writer's job is to explain end-user level, this generally means keeping it as simple as possible. The simplest phrases would be:

"(un)tick the checkbox" or "(de)select the checkbox"

The latter avoids the 'tick' vs 'check' discussion and works for any variant of English.

Instructions about checkboxes should include information about what (de)selection will achieve, for example:

"Select the checkbox to ensure that all sub-entries are calculated."

On a related note: The use of "in" or "on" is omitted in Microsoft documentation (why not take things from the source) where possible. So it would be "click", rather than "click on".

Of course "Click the checkbox" is also non-starter as it does not take the state of the checkbox into account - unless you wanted to use 'unclick' :)

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