I am developing a Windows application where there is a lot of configuration and settings applied to multiple objects. There is a right click menu that is used to apply a predetermined group of settings (a macro type thing). The way that users found out about the right click menu in the past version of the software was by displaying a text tip permanently fixed to the upper right area in the application. The only problem with this tip is that I feel like users will never read it. I for one never read these types of things, especially if there are more than one.

What is the best way to convey that this menu exists? I have read the older question Right-Click menu awareness on Web Application but there are two differences with my question:

  1. It is a Windows "editor" style app, not a web app and

  2. I want to know the best way to make users aware of this functionality without burying it in the help file or having permanent text labels on the interface.

I also know that you shouldn't ever have right click as the only means of achieving something, but as it stands now, that is the only way that this functionality will be available (not my choice, but I am trying to change that).

Update: We ending up going with a tooltip on the right-clickable objects and also another action button that will do the same thing, as well as informs you about the ability to right click, (which is the slightly more effortless applying changes).

  • thanks for the checkmark. Since I did suggest a couple of possibilities (not the best way to do things, I know :) - I wonder if you could update your Question (or add a comment), making note of how you finally solved the problem. Inquiring minds want to know. :)
    – John C
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 15:18

8 Answers 8


Is the item something that you can add a tooltip? For instance, on a forgot-password image, I added a tooltip:

<a href="{% url password-reset %}"><img src="/media/bitmaps/qmark.png/" 
    title="forgot password?" width="50" height="50" /></a>

Which results in

question mark tooltip

Alternately, if it's not some single object(s), then what about storing a flag for first-time use of the context menu? If, say, the first hour goes by that the user has not used the context menu, then pop up a (non-modal) window that reminds them it exists, and fades out. Once they right-click the context menu for the first time, set the flag so they never see a reminder.

And is there any kind of tutorial/walkthrough available? Or just helpfiles? The context menu should be prominently mentioned, several places.

Update - from the various answers/comments, it sounds like you want right-click to work anywhere on the screen, to bring up a menu (ruling out my tooltip suggestion :) But if so - is there any reason you can't add a button somewhere at the top, that says "Apply Settings"? This button would bring up another version of the context menu, which includes a note that they could right-click instead of the button to get the menu.

And if you can't add a button, then I think we need more information about the requirements :)

  • Perhaps a help image similar to this one above with a tooltip telling the user something along the lines of: 'press the right-hand mouse button to display the page menu' rather than having the menu as a tooltip itself.
    – JonW
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:18
  • With this unusual case I agree there is not a good way to hint at the functionality. No patterns exist to indicate right-click via cursor change. Overtly pointing it out in in several help-ish places seems like the best way to go, until such time as you can duplicate the right-click functionality elsewhere in the UI (which is the expected pattern) Commented May 12, 2011 at 16:47

The first thing that comes to mind is to change the display of the (default) pointer cursor to something slightly different. Maybe a pointer with a small indicator next to it, like an (R). Although that may not work for left-handed people that have swapped the mouse buttons. But you get the idea. Hope this helps.

  • 2
    That was my first thought as well, but there's a bunch of problems with it. Cursor changes usually imply a change in function of the main (left) click, so users aren't likely to interpret it as a hint concerning the right button. In addition, it may conflict with the cursor presented for the main click. Lastly, since the right click may be available everywhere in the app, the special cursor would be displayed almost always, which beats the purpose. Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:08

You may simply change the mouse pointer icon that represents right-click.

The icon will tell users that they have extra options when cursor changed, so in this case that doesnt matter if user is right handed or not. ("Right-click" is more a concept than a meaning. So both, right-handed and left-handed, users think and act the same way for this concept.)

Attached is my offer for the icon.

Hope it helps.

enter image description here

  • 1
    That's a good idea, but how will they know what a right-click pointer is? Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:13
  • of course, with your manual or a little presentation like "how to use". think of you OS, why do you right click on a browser even there is no change in the icon view.. we learn such concepts at the very first time, then go on acting as is.
    – ARTniyet
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:20
  • 1
    That can work if the contextual menu is only available in a limited area of the app. But in most desktop apps it's available in 99% of the screen, so it would always be in that state. Another problem is the conflicts this would cause with the cursor changing to signify a change in functionality for the regular click. Commented May 12, 2011 at 16:23
  • 1
    I found this image of the mouse with highlighted right button. i think that works pretty well. icons-for-technical-writers.luckyicon.com/en/preview-icons Commented May 12, 2011 at 17:18
  • 1
    Link from @MimsH.Wright has died and is not in archive, in case someone can point us to something like it. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:28

How will they know what a right-click pointer is?

I think the point that ARTniyet was trying to make is that users will know that something is "different" about the cursor. Initially, they may need instructions or a key/legend to indicate that this different cursor = right click, but if they use this application often, it should quickly become a known feature.

  • "...but if they use this application often, it should quickly become a known feature." Exactly...
    – ARTniyet
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 15:31
  • If they use the application often, they won't need the hint, they'll just learn when the menu is available - regardless of the cursor. Help items and explanations should be usable from the first seconds, and relying on a learning curve of the help function itself doesn't sound like a very good idea. The same goes for providing a legend - the adaptive cursor is the legend, you shouldn't need to provide a legend for the legend :). Commented May 12, 2011 at 16:11

You could function the right-click when hovering a specific element, and keep doing so until the user right-clicks.

Maybe it will help if you told us the functionality of your right-click?


Or you can use a cursor like this one. I made it myself so you can use it if you want.

Right click cursor


If you have a status bar, you may write hints when use hovers over an object in the application. Something like "Click to do baz, Ctlr-click to do foo, Right-click for menu". You may replace the words such as Click or Right-click with an image of a mouse with the corresponding button highlighted.


You should add a floating box in the top-left/right corner of your app that displays a help information where you can present this the fact that there is a right-click functionality. You can place text and maybe a gif animation representing the menu and the possibility to close this box.

  • Thanks for the answer, but that's exactly what we are doing now(except it's on the right side), and what I want to change. Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:15
  • Indeed, but since this is important, use the gif animation to draw their attention.
    – Marian
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:17
  • 2
    I'm gonna pretend you didn't actually suggest an animated gif...:) Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:28
  • @Matt, he did say with a close-box... :)
    – John C
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 13:40

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