As a UI architect, I am always wondering about the best format to display errors and notifications to users.

Which of the following examples is the best format?

  • Name is required
  • Name cannot be empty
  • Please enter name

5 Answers 5


There is a very simple rule that I use for myself: Error messages must not display error messages, they must display a solution message.

The user does not care what is wrong and why, he simply wants the issue solved.


I'd use something like, "You must enter your name".

It's always good to keep things short, but the most important thing is that the messages are easy to understand. I've worked in places where the designers don't like how the error messages look, that they take up too much space, but most users won't see the error messages, so I think it's a case where usability, or in this case, intelligibility, is more important than design.

  • the messages is displaying in alert box for your information
    – Pir Abdul
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 8:35
  • In that case, I'd say be as clear as possible. It can be useful to highlight the form fields which need the information. If you don't mind using a jQuery plugin, I suggest that you consider this: bassistance.de/jquery-plugins/jquery-plugin-validation if you have not already done so.
    – puppybeard
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 8:59
  • actually the higher management want alert box. typical alert box of internet explorer.
    – Pir Abdul
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 9:09
  • I feel your pain. At least, alert() is very reliable.
    – puppybeard
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 12:46
  • I'm not sure that "you"/"your" contribute much to the clarity of the error message. Also, in an alert box, phrasing should be in the X is wrong for reason Y -- whenever I see you must, my gut reaction is "but I did already!"... even if I'm wrong.
    – dbkk
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 19:51

You need to play off:

  • using the least possible words

  • using the simplest possible words

  • providing enough information for the user to be able to 'solve the problem'


I would go with 'Please enter name' because it indicates required action.

And I agree with puppybeard that you should use as much words as needed for user to understand the message correctly. I would also highlight the field with error and if possible set focus (cursor) to that field. It's a bit more work, but usually very helpful for the user.


Totally agree with Bart.

I always suggest to favor friendly message just like if it was a real human talking to you.


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