I don't like seeing the word 'you' in the message twice. Examples:

  1. Are you sure you want to delete this item?
  2. Are you sure you want to continue?
  • 3
    Not sure that not liking seeing the word you twice is a good enough reason to want to change the dialogue text, but whatever floats your boat :)
    – Rahul
    Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 17:41
  • 33
    You should try to avoid "are you sure" dialogs if you can. People tend to click YES or OK out of habit, so it's not much of a safeguard against doing the wrong thing. It's much better to skip the confirmation, but provide an undo. Aza Raskin puts it well: Never Use A Warning When You Mean Undo Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 19:02
  • 2
    @Patrick: put it in an answer. Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 19:25
  • - Delete this item? YES NO - Are you sure? YES NO - Do you understand the implications of deleting this? YES NO - Coke or Pepsi? YES NO Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 15:56

10 Answers 10


Part of the reason that people skip over long messages is due to reading speed.

Assume for the sake of discussion someone with an average reading speed - around 200 words per minute.(*)

If you use just 20 words in a dialog, you're asking that user to spend 6 seconds reading and understanding what you wrote.

While that doesn't sound like much, a six second imposed pause when you're trying to get something done can seem to be an awfully long time.

(*) And don't make the mistake of assuming that low reading speed means low intelligence.

So, three suggestions for you, all aimed at maximum clarity with minimum fuss.

  1. Be as concise as possible
  2. Identify the item at risk
  3. Name your buttons for the actions

Here is a simple deletion dialog:


Let's reduce the number of words to the minimum to make it easier to read:


Now, let's identify the item at risk, and label the buttons for the action:

alt text

Much better - easier to read and clearer.

Another example - a continuation dialog.

Confirmation dialog

Simplify wording.

Better Continue dialog

Again, let's identify what's going on and label the buttons for the actions.

Best Continue Dialog

A definite improvement.

Here's a final thought. Avoid negatives, especially double negatives. Some native English speakers find double negatives tricky, and many who learn English as a second language find them confusing (especially if their native tongue uses double-negatives for emphasis instead of inversion).

  • 1
    Or, you can just read the Windows UX guidelines msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa511258.aspx where they actually write about this :) Commented Aug 27, 2010 at 17:38
  • 4
    I believe you are actually setting some bad examples: 1. It is "OK", not "Ok". 2. If you ask a yes/no question, the possible answers must be yes or no, certainly not OK and Cancel. 3. If you identify the buttons for the action, you must do this with both buttons, not just with one (i.e. Delete/Keep not Delete/Cancel) Apart from that I also believe any sentence must at least contain a subject and a verb, but that is personal. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 12:38
  • 3
    @BaGi - I think you may have misread my answer: I'm showing a progression from poor to better. Having a Yes/No question with Ok/Cancel as the buttons is certainly poor, but is all too commom, and this is what I was pointing out. To address your points ... Where there is a simple inverse, using it for the Cancel button makes sense - so Delete/Keep is better than Delete/Cancel, but this isn't always possible - what's the inverse of Post? Post/Don't Post seems clumsy. And, I think all my examples are full sentences. To take the last one: "Continue":verb; "Transaction processing": subject.
    – Bevan
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 19:44
  • 1
    @Bevan: I don't think Post? Post/Don't Post is clumsy. Save/don't save is what you see constantly. In you last sentence "transaction processing" is not at all a subject , but an indirect object (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object_%28grammar%29). I did understand your examples show a gradual improvement, I just think the final result still contains a few minor flaws. Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 5:45
  • 3
    @BartGijssens: I'd always prefer Cancel to anything else... because without a single neuron firing I know that it does nothing (effectively one less word to read). The problem with "Don't save" is that it may use "Throw away" in some other (poor) context.
    – maaartinus
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 3:32

I always make a point of showing the user which item is being deleted (especially since the dialogue might obscure the item in question, but also because seeing identifiable text in the dialogue will call attention):

Delete "your favourite item"?

You can also inject a little humour here and there, depending on what kind of app you're making:

Surely you don't want to continue without saving? [Yes I do, leave me alone] [Oh right, thanks for reminding me]

If you user test it you'll notice that humorous messages get noticed a bit more frequently simply because they sort of stand out from the crowd of generic messages and (if they're actually cute enough) get a smile on the face of the user. What more could you want?

  • 4
    Or you could just follow my rule of thumb: All dialog buttons must be labeled "D'oh!", even if there are multiple buttons. Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 17:46
  • 1
    @VirtuosiMedia If there are two buttons, only one should be labelled "D'oh!" The other should be labelled "Why you little…!" Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 21:12
  • 1
    "... 14 users clicked Do'h, 5 users clicked Nut, and one user pressed the M key repeatedly." - Jakob Nielsen Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 21:50
  • 3
    "...All 20 users expressed surprise at the ensuing red emergency lights, sirens, and warnings to evacuate before the nuclear meltdown. Those that survived later mentioned that they were torn between fleeing for safety and seeing what was in the fridge. Shaken by the experience, they seemed to wonder if they had made the right choice." Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 22:49
  • 2
    It would be more humorous if it said "Shirley" instead of "Surely".
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 23:27

Google suggest two different ways and both remove 'you' entirely.

Google design writing guidelines suggests the following:

Omit unnecessary phrases

You can skip many common introductory phrases and get right to the point.

enter image description here

Further Material Design alert dialogs suggests rephrasing the question to remove the 'are you sure?'

Alerts with title bars

Use title bar alerts only for high-risk situations, such as the potential loss of connectivity. Users should be able to understand the choices based on the title and button text alone.

If a title is required:

  • Use a clear question or statement with an explanation in the content area, such as "Erase USB storage?".
  • Avoid apologies, ambiguity, or questions, such as “Warning!” or “Are you sure?”

enter image description here


It's better to not have such dialogs, instead, implement undo functionality.

The dialog is useless 95% of the time, so why force it on people? Are you trying to help people? or are you trying to place the blame on the user "hey, you confirmed that you wanted to delete that important item, don't blame me!".

Guess what, people learn to ignore these dialogs, they always subconsciously confirm whatever action they just did.

So that's the wrong approach to solve the problem.

The problem here is: user action can have undesired effects if done by mistake.

A better solution for that problem would be to allow the user to rollback his change.

If you allowed them to undo deletions, you get two good things:

  • You won't have to annoy the user with useless dialogs.
  • Users can recover from unintentional deletions.

Implementing undo is a lot harder than showing a confirmation box.


A critical thing to remember is that people ignore "Are you sure" messages. You have to force them to think about the decision. Here is one of my favorities.

alt text

  • 6
    I'm not sure what the "can not undo" checkbox means. If I don't check it, will I be able to undo? Or will the "No going back" button not activate until I check it? This dialogue almost feels like a form itself, including error handling and UI element state management. If I make a mistake in this dialogue will it pop up a dialogue telling me what I did wrong? ;)
    – Rahul
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 9:21
  • 4
    @Rahul: Agree with you. The concept here is nice (if you can't support Undo) but the labeling is really weird. Even the "No Going Back" button. I think Can Not Undo is sort of like an "I agree to the terms" kind of confirmation, but that's just my guess
    – cbosco
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 18:23
  • 5
    This is just absolutely awful. Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 2:47
  • 2
    @Bennett, customers loved it. Awful to you is great to someone else. What matters are the customers. Everyone else, good points on the undo phrasing.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 23:32
  • 1
    In our case, we are heavily syncd wih salesforce.com and deletions can happen on both sides. Soft delete is the prefered answer, but the project is not small. Still, it wouod be great to do, However, what if he action were to send emails out. You cant undo a million emails sent.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented May 23, 2011 at 5:58

Delete this item?


Straight to the point.


For critical messages you want to be as clear as possible and make sure the user reads the message.

Messages like

By clicking here you agree that ...

Are you sure you want to ....

Get lost on the user, The user reads it as yada, yada, yada, whatever... and clicks yes without looking.

To get the user to read the message it has to be in the right order.

  • Name the action that will happen
  • then the warning
  • then the question
  • then the action to take.

You are about to submit you application, This action can not be un-done, Do you want to continue, Click yes to continue or click cancel

This is a bit long but if you need the user to read the message this is the safest way to go.

  • 1
    Your message, while better than yadayada, still has a problem - why am I clicking "yes" to continue, instead of a "continue" button? Something like this would be better: Your application is ready to submit. If you continue, this can not be undone. Would you like to continue? [Continue] [Cancel] Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 3:08
  • @Jared, Good point, sound better and would be shorter.
    – Sruly
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 6:05
  • How about a punchier version? "Submit your application? This can not be undone. [Continue] [Cancel]" (Actually, in many cases saying that the action cannot be undone is not helpful anyway.) Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 2:50

What you've got is grammatically correct, but I take your point.

You could try breaking the message into two phrases:

This item will be deleted, are you sure?

This moves the important part of the question to the front where it is (hopefully) more likely to be read.

I'd also tend to avoid messages for actions that can be undone and reduce the number of undoable actions to an absolute minimum.

  • 4
    And, of course, replace this item with the actual name of the item! Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 3:09
  • @Jared - yes - make it explicit what you are going to do.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 9:38

The Apple Human Interface Guidelines for Mac OS X have a good deal to say about message boxes (alert panels).

Button names should correspond to the action the user performs when pressing the button—for example, Erase, Save, or Delete. The rightmost button in the dialog, the action button, is the button that confirms the alert message text. The action button is usually, but not always, the default button. (Note that in Cocoa methods, the rightmost button is always referred to as the default button even though it might not be.) For more information, see “Dismissing Dialogs.”

The problem with the Windows Message Box API is that it doesn't allow you to actually specify the names of the buttons you want, instead requiring you to either roll your own message box or use the built in Yes/No/OK/Cancel buttons.

For some more reading, here's an interesting article talking about the problems with message boxes in general: Why Message Boxes Are Evil.

  • The problems in the Windows Message Box API are addressed by the Task Dialog API. (New in Windows Vista)
    – MSalters
    Commented May 23, 2011 at 12:58

It is not always about these explicit actions like delete,erase,save..etc.. There can be certain scenarios where user may unknowingly exits from an ongoing critical process.

For ex: The user is in the middle of payment and hits the back button.

In this scenario the user needs to be alerted.

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