I'm writing some documentation for a web-based application that will run on Android tablets at the factory at which I am employed.

I am having trouble wording the steps where the users must interact with the onscreen buttons via touch.

For example "1. Enter or scan your clock number and then"... "click the button", "press the button"?

Click sounds most natural to me, but it still doesn't "feel" right.

Is the word "click" ubiquitous while explaining interaction with an onscreen button regardless of if there is a mouse involved?

  • 3
    Related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/37963/…
    – DA01
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 15:20
  • Usually buttons on a touch screen are designed to look like a real button, even being animated in such a way that it looks depressed when we touch it, so perhaps press would also be appropriate?
    – user13267
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 4:30
  • There's probably no right answer to this question. Can't you go with something like "validate", that would be neutral ?
    – undu
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 15:21
  • 1
    "Tap" is also another option.
    – Keavon
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 2:59
  • We rather "tap". Well from the options given, "press" is most suitable.
    – user48568
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 7:33

9 Answers 9


There's no 'right' answer here. What is more important is that you are consistent within your own documentation.

Regarding touch interfaces, the typical interaction is 'tap'.

Regarding desktops, the typical interaction is 'click'.

In both cases, it's not the ONLY interaction, however, as both touch devices and desktops can be navigated in other ways (such as via the keyboard).

Personally, I prefer a more generic term such as 'select' that can be used agnostically across devices--though some have pointed out that 'select' is often reserved specifically for selecting an option.

  • 4
    Additionaly, please note that, tap and touch are different things. To tap, you have to remove your finger from the screen after touching it.
    – frankish
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 12:09
  • Surely the 'right' answer is the terminology the OP decides to use?
    – user43251
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 11:53
  • @user43251 only to the OP.
    – DA01
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 14:32
  • @DA01 Obviously not; he agrees with you it seems.
    – user43251
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 14:35
  • 3
    Yes, this was chosen as the answer because of the "consistent" clause. I went with "tap", and I think it works nicely. That word was escaping me entirely when I posted this question, else I may not have even asked it.
    – eidsonator
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 14:41

As you will be using Android, perhaps refer to their own Design Principles documentation? They use 'touch';

Access the entire collection of apps and widgets by touching the All Apps button at the center of the Favorites Tray.

I would also say you 'touch the button' because isn't that exactly what you are doing on a touch screen device? That surely is the equivalent to clicking a button with a mouse. E.g;

  1. Enter or scan your clock number and then touch the 'Confirm' button to continue...

FWIW, Apple use 'tap' in their iOS Human Interface Guidelines:

People use gestures—such as tap, drag, and pinch—to interact with apps and their iOS devices.

  • 6
    Well... everyone here, outside of the IT department, calls our Android tablets "iPads". So I might want to stick with Apple's 'tap'.
    – eidsonator
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 16:17
  • Haha! I don't think you can go wrong with touch or tap - they both suggest interaction with a touchscreen device rather than a desktop.
    – user43251
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 16:20
  • 8
    To me, tap implies touching quickly and removing your finger. Touch doesn't do that for me. If I was told to tap a table I would quickly touch it then retract my hand. If I was told to touch it I would at least rest my hand there momentarily. I think either touch or tap works, but I think tap makes more sense.
    – Dillon
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 16:42

Click implies the pressing of a physical switch which then creates a 'click' sound - typically on devices with input devices attached (such as a mouse)

Push implies moving something out of its original position, typical of a physical button, again similar to a mouse (or moreso key) input

Press implies moving into physical contact with something, the thing being moved and the target are up for interpretation, as such this can refer to any number of motions involving contact

Select implies the choice of something over something of equal standing, typically an item from a list so is likely less appropriate for the on/off or yes/no functionality of a switch

As such, for device agnostic purposes, I'd go with 'press' if limited to the supplied list.

Tap as noted above in the answers tends to be associated with touch screen devices, in which case it would be entirely appropriate to mention in relation to button interaction

  • 2
    "Click" and "press" are probably the two most widely used. "Click" is really a holdover from the act of pressing the mouse button, which happens to activate the virtual button. A physical button would be "pressed". Either is fine for a classic mouse-driven interface, and should be understood by a touch screen user (where "tap" would be even better). However, "tap" could be confusing to someone using a mouse-driven interface, so be careful about using that word in general. "Select" is not good, except for a multiple choice option.
    – Phil Perry
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 14:18
  • @PhilPerry - click has an onomatopoeic origin from a physical action, as such I'd likely align it more with use of a physical switch/button changing position than finger-screen contact, the OP is focussed on touch only
    – SW4
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 14:42
  • I agree that press is probably the best general-purpose answer.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 18:25
  • 'Press' is not standard terminology for operating an on-screen control in any desktop or mobile OS that I'm aware of though. It always jars when a website or program asks me to press something (unless it refers to a physical key or button).
    – nekomatic
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 14:03
  • Right- however if restricted to the options listed it is the most suitable
    – SW4
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 14:04

The Android setup screen used to instruct the user to touch the Android to begin, but I personally use tap for everything touch-related, as it's smaller, thus making instructions as simplistic as possible.

It is worth noting that if your buttons merely say Tap here then you should consider changing the text to just state their purpose, for instance Add to contacts.

Finally, if it is not clear to the user that they must tap a button, then you should consider redesigning your buttons.


On a mobile device you use gestural movements, in this case it would be TAP. You can use the word click but it will be read as being out of date or out of touch.

  • 1
    If the interface is intended to also be used with a mouse-driven PC, "tap" could induce confusion (i.e., mouse users are not used to that). If it is to be exclusively on a touch screen device, "tap" is fine.
    – Phil Perry
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 14:20

A button (that will trigger some action) is pressed, pushed or activated.

To do so in a web form, you can either point your mouse at it and click it (on a desktop PC) or tap at the element (on a touch device).

I would not use the term "select", that sounds as if you were choosing one from a set of buttons.


Personally I would think that 'tap' is the preferred description, as this also infers a touch of a short duration. If asked to touch something, a user could reasonably continue touching the thing for a significant period of time. Many UIs interpret a touch-and-hold as an alternate gesture (e.g. iOS).

'Click', 'push' and 'press' all suggest some sort of mechanical operation, and 'select' suggests that a choice of several options is being made.


If it's a button, "press" and "push" will always be correct.

A button, like many UI elements, mimics real life objects. "pressing" a button in any computer application has nothing to do with the method of input. Whether it's a screen you're touching, a mouse, a trackball or a straw, in the end, you're going to "hover" over the element (hence :hover in css), and make that button go down.

If you look at the default look of buttons, they even mimic real life. Often there's a light shining from the top, giving it some shadow underneath, and a gradient on the slightly rounded button. Regardless of your operating system, they'll look slightly 3-dimensional (flat design being the exception to this rule) and the down states include some shadow, representing a difference in depth.

"Clicking" is impossible without some form of real life (mouse-) button.

"Selecting" is more like :focus in css, where you're not pressing, choosing without having.


I would go with "select", since in fact many touchscreen applications are now touch-to-highlight/drag-to-choose/lift-to-commit. That interaction sequence deals with initially erroneous touches, and calibration issues, MUCH more smoothly than anything else. You can tap with that system, but you get better accuracy if you don't... and it subtly trains you into using the version with built-in confirmation/correction. (I know IBM developed this approach as part of the ITS project and the 1992 World's Fair kiosks; I don't know whether anyone had independently stumbled on it and published earlier.)

(Boston's public transit system has had serious ongoing problems with their choice of "tap" as the verb for presenting a proximity card to a reader. People who do what "tap" normally means don't give the system enough time to read the card. "Hold" would have been a much better description of the actual interaction. Unfortunately, since people do learn despite their documentation, they haven't been motivated to change it.)

  • 2
    Never use "select" for a pushbutton. That word should be reserved for picking one or more selections from a list of choices (whether a pull-down selection list, radio buttons, or checkboxes).
    – Phil Perry
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 14:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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