I have some checkboxes that should include/exclude some content on some reports.

But I am not sure if I should use:

Include all items


Exclude unused items

for the text of the checkbox.

What is better/makes more sense, etc.? Positive or negative button explanations?

  • 5
    I would go with a third one: Include unused items. This, I would do for two reasons: 1) Positive wording, see @jonshariat's answer, and 2) Include all items says nothing about which items will be left out (the unused ones).
    – jensgram
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 19:04
  • If it makes sense for your project I like @jensgram 's suggestion.
    – jonshariat
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 19:12
  • I did end up going with jensgram's suggestion, for exactly the reason he gave.
    – richard
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 19:23

4 Answers 4


Include all items, and here is why: People can compute positive words easier than negative ones.

For example: Do you want a part of my sandwich? or Do you not want most of my sandwich?

  • 1
    Hilarious, I tripped over the second one and had to re-read 3 times. LOL!
    – richard
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 18:33
  • 2
    I couldn't help but fail to disagree with you less...
    – John C
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 18:21

We must distinguish between negation and negative wording.

Both of these work very well:

[ ] Are you happy
[ ] Are you sad

But none of these:

[ ] Are you not rich
[ ] Are you not poor

Likewise, the context is important. Let the meaning of the check mark be consistent. Like this:

[ ] Install software
[ ] Add start menu item
[ ] Add desktop item
[ ] Accept license agreement
[ ] Assign to news letter

Instead of this:

[ ] Install software
[ ] No start menu item
[ ] Add desktop item
[ ] Disagree with license agreement
[ ] Assign to news letter

The general best practice when it comes to filtering, is to check mark the content that should be included:

Use these sources to generate the list:
[ ] Google result
[ ] Bing result
[ ] Yahoo result
[ ] Ask.com result

But depending on the context, you could use negative wording without reducing the understandability:

Exclude the following content:
[ ] Exclude porn
[ ] Exclude duplicates
[ ] Exclude foreign languages
[ ] Exclude bookmarked pages

I'm not quiet sure which criteria you need to include/exclude, but this might be a suggestion to the three states you describe in the question:

[ ] Include used items
[ ] Include unused items

  • +1 for the last example, even if you must always include the used items. In that case, pre-check and grey out (disable) the checkbox.
    – MSalters
    Commented May 23, 2011 at 13:25

In your particular example and in most cases the positive statements would be better. That's purely because they're easier to understand.

As bad as it sounds, one of the common reasons to do the opposite is to trick or encourage the user to make the decision you want out of them. e.g.

[ ] Check here if you do not wish to participate in the organ donor program.

People tend to make two common mistakes. Either they don't completely read and understand the statement. Or they let the default state (unchecked) make the decision for them. The default state of a question can in fact play a major role. The user doesn't make a decision, and therefore, joins the organ donor program. Dan Ariely gives this very example in his TED talk, along with some shocking statistics (at the 5 minute mark).


I would always go for the simpler version, which often is the positive one.

In your case, "Exclude unused items" would certainly give me a headache the first couple of times ;-)

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