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(User Flow: user try to submit a form request)

Should I display the "Internal Server Error" message?

Is there any message that understandable to user rather than saying "Internal Server Error"?

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In general, when something goes wrong, software should—in decreasing order of preference:

  1. Recover automatically with the most commonly acceptable fix, without bothering the user. Undo can hekp the user back out of a fix they don't want.
  2. Offer to fix the problem, with the most commonly accepted fix as the default choice.
  3. Inform the user of the problem and advise the user what steps to take next.
  4. Inform the user of what happened.
  5. Do nothing because the failure is catastrophic.

In the case of a server error, you can't necessarily do much more than option 4, above. To manage the relationship with the user, all you can do is use words that make the user feel:

  • it's not their fault (see Avoid blame, below).
  • the company respects them (see Polite, below).
  • they are supported in a broader sense (see Context matters, below), not just with the immediate error.

Follow the style guide. Before you choose the wording for a server error message, check whether your company has a style guide that specifies the "voice" or "rhetorical stance"? If so, follow it when writing the error message.

Avoid blame. In the case of communication between a server and a user, you want to avoid the implication of blame. Avoid a message such as: "It looks like your data caused an error." Instead: "It looks like the server did something wrong."

Err politely. Especially when there's been a system failure, a user may take offense at the voice of an error message. Something written as casual may be interpreted as flippant and uncaring. You don't want the user's reaction to be: "Don't speak to me that way because [I'm not your friend] [you're signalling a lack of concern for my predicament] [this situation isn't amusing to me] [etc]."

Context matters. What's potentially at stake? Was the user in the middle of filling a government tax form? In the middle of paying for an online order? Checking in for a flight? Imagine what information a user might need, under those circumstances, over and above the simple message that "Something went wrong. Try again later."

There is a good suggestion in one of the other answers:

500 Internal Server Error Oh no! Something bad happened. Please come back later when we fixed that problem. Thanks.

This is a common message, and it might fit your context very well. It also might not. For example, the words "Oh no!" might seem just right, or might seem too casual. The words "Something bad happened" might be appropriate or insufficiently informative. "Please come back later" might be fine, or if there might be a time constraint, you could offer another channel, such as a telephone number. Thanking the user often feels right, as long as the message doesn't take more than the user is willing to give: "Thanks for your understanding" may cause the user to feel "I don't understand, so obviously you don't understand me."

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Most websites just write the following:

500 Internal Server Error Oh no! Something bad happened. Please come back later when we fixed that problem. Thanks.

I don't really see many alternatives, because when that error is shown your server is pretty much not usable anymore, so you don't have a guarantee that images or CSS and that stuff is accessible.

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If you actually have more detailed information about what the error was, then you can decide whether there is something more useful that you could inform the user of. The question, however, seems to be whether there is a better generic message for an unspecified error on a server. In that case, there just may not be a better message.

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For an eCommerce site I've seen better results with something like: Sorry your specific request is currently inaccessible. Please try an alternative method or contact customer support for assistance. Please hit your browser's Back Button to return.

This has the least negative impact on the customer. It's never a good idea to worry the customer especially when they have to trust your site enough to provide credit card information. I know there are a number of reasons Internal Server Errors occur - but this message is the 'lesser of all evils'. The server isn't necessarily useless at that point. In my experience - at least for a shopping cart - it's usually a specific programming issue that has prevented a page from displaying however the rest of the site is still functional.

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