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Is it better for labels to have a more conversational, verbose tone such as "Chose a type" or should they be more succinct like: "Type"

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    If you do choose to user the verbose tone avoid being repetitive don't just say "Choose a type", "Choose a product", "Choose a ..." for every label. – DasBeasto Jun 26 '15 at 12:41
  • Mouse over verbose tool tip is a good option. Much like a mouse over on the tags above. – paparazzo Jun 26 '15 at 17:33
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    Clarity is important. Verbosity is often the opposite of clarity, but not always. – DA01 Jul 24 '15 at 6:22
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I would categorize your question as being one of "writing style" or "voice and tone". But, it's still a good question.

I'm looking for a public corporate style guides that covers this topic... and not finding much. You can try browsing through the articles at http://styleguides.io/ for more research on other companies that have made decisions or shared research on this topic.

Here is an article with a lot of opinions that might help: http://webdesign.tutsplus.com/articles/using-guidelines-to-mind-your-tone--cms-21309

Unfortunately I don't see a lot of research. This article http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/11/08/extensive-guide-web-form-usability/ is a little older, but it goes into depth on related topics. Specifically this:

If the purpose of a label is simple to understand, such as to ask for a name or telephone number, then a word or two should suffice. But a phrase or sentence might be necessary to eliminate ambiguity.

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There isn't a UX answer to this except for answering some basic questions.

  1. What do your user expect?
  2. How will your users react to your choice?

These basic questions will result in widely different answers based on who your users are.

Expert users (people who use the system constantly for work) and who are bombarded by data may appreciate terse labels. New users, unfamiliar with the system, may appreciate something that helps them navigate the application. "Choose a Type" tells the user what to do and reduces load.

There are many other factors that intersect with the above two questions, for example the tone of the rest of the site. How are you communicating with your users in other areas of the site?

In general, if this is a B2C, easing the user through the process and having them feel comfortable with the process and the company behind the product/service trumps just about everything.

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It's simple. Use normal, natural language in your entire UI as much as possible. Let's take an example of a message box:

Wrong: "Delete?"

Right: "Are you sure you want to delete this file?"

To understand where these short message boxes and labels come from we need to go back to a time where computers were much more limited than today. In the beginning, computers did not have a screen. Output was sent directly to a printer for instance. As a result, programmers had to omit things like confirmation messages. The ones they could not omit needed to be short.

Later than that, computers started to have a screen and some sort of a UI. From that point on, the UI could show confirmation messages etc. But because of other limitations, such as memory or screens real estate, labels and messages where held as short as possible leaving out all words that are not strictly needed.

Today, computers have load of memory. It makes no sense to keep messages or labels short, but programmers habits have stayed. It's time to get rid of that old habit and start using natural language: Subject, verb, direct object etc.

A UI needs to communicate to real people of flesh and blood, not robots or machines. So use people's language and not those old, artificial robot-like sentences with just 1 word.

Taken from MS UX Design Principles Top Violations:

Text

  • Use ordinary, conversational terms when you can. Focus on the user goals, not technology. This is especially effective if you are explaining a complex technical concept or action. Imagine yourself looking over the user's shoulder and explaining how to accomplish the task.
  • Remove redundant text. Look for redundant text in window titles, main instructions, supplemental instructions, content areas, command links, and commit buttons. Generally, leave full text in main instructions and interactive controls, and remove any redundancy from the other places.
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    Microsofts Design Guidelines state exactly the opposite! You don't want lengthy conversations with your user. The User is usually already in a state close to cognitive overload with many applications, So if you even want him to read a Popup at all you should make it as short an informative as possible, or the user will just skip the whole text! – Falco Jul 23 '15 at 13:49
  • Where do they state that? – Bart Gijssens Jul 24 '15 at 5:59
  • Here: msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/… and here: msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/… as well as in some individual articles for forms/dialogs. You should have a short an concise text and can explain additional details in tooltips or other less distracting ways. Citation: Design text for scanning, not immersive reading – Falco Jul 24 '15 at 10:35
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    Just "Delete?" is wrong, because of missing context. "Are you sure......" is much too long to scan in one blink. Delete selected file? would probably be best - a context so the user knows what he is going to delete: a single, selected file, but still Delete is the first word and will immediately trigger the right reaction. – Falco Jul 24 '15 at 10:37
  • Most usability experts will disagree. – Bill Dagg Aug 19 '15 at 19:54
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Other issues include: Is this a website or an app? Websites are typically friendlier and zippier. Will the text be localized? Other languages may have trouble translating labels that are too short to provide context. How much room is there in the UI? If space is really constrained, you might not have any choice.

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This is difficult to answer because a lot rests on context. Depending on your app or page and the familiarity of the user with the task, a label like "Type" may be either blindingly obvious or as clear as mud. This is where user testing is so helpful. As a general rule I try to keep all labels short as this improves the clarity of the UI. Further explanation can be reserved for dialogue boxes and the like.

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