I have several buttons in my application that require some explanation (1-3 SHORT sentences). Something like context sensitive help.

what is the best way to provide the user this explanation?

  • Tooltip? (annoying and "hidden")
  • coach marks upon load?
  • something else?
  • 1
    If really required, certainly not tooltip.
    – Crissov
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 13:04
  • 3
    Can we see a screenshot so that we understand the context?
    – Matt Obee
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 14:23
  • 1
    Is your application web? Mobile? Desktop? Will the buttons always need explanation or could they be explained in a tutorial?
    – rach oune
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 16:47
  • This is a Web application.
    – Burgaz
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 6:38

1 Answer 1


I would strenuously avoid coach marks and tutorials. They're mostly not effective; people tend to dismiss them right away and they don't want to read a manual to get started (http://www.nngroup.com/articles/mobile-instructional-overlay/). We've personally seen tutorial walkthroughs mostly fail in usability; most people seem to prefer trying to figure out what's going on and then getting help if they need it.

I don't see a problem with helper tips under the form field row, or with help bubbles (for tapping or clicking / hovering) for users who need it. However, if the buttons represent functionality that's complex enough that they need a couple of sentences, you might want to restructure the interface to use different elements that afford more explanation.

For example: Are these toolbar-type buttons that the user will interact with many times? Or are they part of a workflow or occasional / rare use system?

If these options are part of a one-time or occasional process, instead of making them buttons you might consider making each choice a radio with a single confirmation button. The confirmation text will ideally reflect the selected option. The default option should be the most popular, least-destructive, and/or most-recoverable option. (This example is in my head after using Zendesk earlier today to deal with an account of a former employee.)


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

If the actions are going to be used somewhat frequently, but not enough for the user to really learn them, a fancy dropdown with explanatory text is helpful.

For example, in calendaring, most calendar servers understand an event marking you as busy (like a meeting) or available (like you have a reminder on your calendar to take medicine but you don't want it to block out meeting requests.) Here's how we explain this to users at Magneto:

enter image description here

  • thanks for your answer. The buttons are not one time process and they are not part of a form. The user operates the application (web application)using these buttons. I'm sorry but I can't share a screen, but imagine that I have a game with some buttons that are used by the player to operate the gave. most buttons are simple and intuitive. there are several buttons that requires some extra explanation.
    – Burgaz
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 6:43
  • In that case, I'd use a persistent help icon [?] near each / both buttons that triggers in-context help (i.e. a popover or tooltip). I wouldn't do a hover over the button itself; if these are repeated-use in-app tools, then potentially triggering a hover whenever you use the button gets annoying. Having a question-mark icon near the button(s) lets the user trigger help for more info but doesn't get in the way of someone who has learned them already.
    – ElBel
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 18:43

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