14

I'm trying to list the what various keys do inside the documentation for my CLI program, but I'm not sure what to refer to this key as. It is commonly referred to as either Enter or Return, but which is considered better UX? I was going to list it as Enter/Return, but that seems sloppy.

A Google search seems to indicate that Enter is more prevalent. However, my laptop gives different results - while having both enter and return on it, return is printed in larger text on the key and is placed closer on the key to the user.

How should I refer to this key?

  • 3
    just be consistent – DA01 Mar 22 '14 at 19:29
  • If it's a CLI program, it's a fair bet the people using it will understand either term. Myself, like most of the answers, I'd go with Enter. – TripeHound May 4 '18 at 12:27
22

To be frank, only a selected few are aware that the Enter and Return keys are not the same - whether you refer to it as Enter or Return, users will press either buttons (if they have both buttons). This is due to the fact that on very few software products the Enter and Return keys do different things (Avid's Pro Tools is the only example I can give).

My own experience is that Enter is a more popular name; "Press the return key" sounds odd, while "Press Enter" sounds natural. I fail to see anyone to whom you'll say "Press Enter" going "Hu?", while I can imagine this happening if you'll say "Press Return". But that's just me and based on my own subjective experience; perhaps in Norway they use Return more than Enter. However, as you said, a search for "Press Enter" on Google yields 15 million results, while "Press Return" yields less than a million.

If I had been you I wouldn't worry about it so much and use Enter.


Trivia

The term Return is a shorthand for Carriage Return.

Originally, the term carriage return referred to a mechanism or lever on a typewriter. It was used after typing a line of text and caused the assembly holding the paper (the carriage) to return to the right so that the machine was ready to type again on the left-hand side of the paper.

Source: Wikipedia.

  • 1
    The extra trivia is quite interesting and clarifies the origins - thanks for returning (hah, get it?) to add it! – DaimyoKirby Mar 24 '14 at 4:09
  • Many keyboards combine both "enter" and "return" into the same button. Here's one: km.support.apple.com/library/APPLE/APPLECARE_ALLGEOS/HT1171/… – Pdxd Mar 24 '14 at 18:49
  • 1
    Just a random note, Photoshop differentiates when editing text between [Enter] as a line break / carriage return, where-as the [Return] button commits your text. Just noting because Adobe's tools are a bit more widely used, and it might even be useful for some people to hear about this. – Dirk v B Mar 25 '14 at 21:47
  • 1
    On a standard keyboard (IBM Model M) Carriage Return is to the right of the main key area and Enter is to the right of the keypad. It's called 'enter' because it's designed for single handed data entry using the keypad. – PhillipW Jan 24 at 22:33
22

"Enter" is a more popular choice than "Return". According to Google ngrams.

enter image description here

As Robusto commented, you need to take into account that the phrases used in this ngrams search may appear in contexts other than that of computer keyboard usage and that this may skew the results. (members of the press enter the courtroom)

However it seems clear that Enter is a better bet than Return.

I'd therefore write "Press Enter" unless I could be certain that the users have a specific keyboard with a specific label on the key want them to use.

  • This ignores other uses for "enter key" and "return key" such as "enter key results" and so forthy; you can get closer to the truth by making the phrase larger and more explicitly related to keyboards in order to isolate the usages. See this NGram. – Robusto Nov 15 '16 at 21:59
  • 1
    @Robusto: I incorporated your suggestion (this old 2014 answer was getting new views recently so I revised it) – RedGrittyBrick Jan 23 at 15:47
5

What is the target platform for your CLI application? This should guide your decision.

Enter is more common on non-Apple keyboards.

Return is the standard for Apple keyboards with 'enter', as you point out, sometimes written about the key.

A third incarnation is simple using an icon on the key:

enter image description here

If you use a single word to describe the key, you should use the label used most often for your target platform. 'Enter' for Windows/Unix, 'Return' for OSX.

You could also, in the introduction to your instructions, place the phrase similar to:

The 'Enter'/'Return' key, hereinafter referred to as the 'Return' key.

... or 'Enter', depending on your target platform.

5

Return and Enter are different keys. Return often found as the main key, and Enter for the numeric key.

Few software makes a difference between these. In Adobe Photoshop, Return will add a new line, and Enter will finish the editing.

Microsoft Windows on screen keyboard uses Enter to describe both keys; but they still act as their corresponding key. Looking at several photos of keyboards for Windows, they often have the main key as ↵ Enter (the ↵ symbol stands for return), and just Enter for the numeric key.

Apple Mac keyboard uses Return, with Enter written above to be accessed by the Fn key.

Prefereably to use Enter for Windows and Return for Mac; as long as there's no difference between Return or Enter in your software.

3

The Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) of the operating system of your program might give you a hint or the answer. There are HIG for Windows, macOS, Android and some more. For Linux things are a bit more complicated AFAIK.

For Windows: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/dn742465.aspx Refers to "Enter" to submit the data.

For macOS: https://developer.apple.com/macos/human-interface-guidelines/user-interaction/keyboard/ Refers to "Return" as standard behaviour of that key, and "Enter" as result of Shift+Return. No further specification of behaviour given.

GNOME, XFCE (Linux, *nix): https://developer.gnome.org/hig/stable/keyboard-input.html.en Refers to "Return" to activate the focused UI button (= the opposite of Windows naming).

As you see, things are not that clear and it depends on the target platform which name to use.

  • 1
    If there is a mention, could you please cite specific instances? – Tin Man May 4 '18 at 20:11
2

Expanding slightly on Evil Closet Monkey's answer, the key on the right of Apple keyboards is unambiguously the return key. Some older Apple keyboards, and the current Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, have a separate enter key.

You can type enter using the combination fnreturn.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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