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Is there a difference between the words 'modify' and 'edit'? I am creating a form that will allow users to make changes to their order - what should the call to action button name be - 'edit your order' or 'modify your order'. Is there any difference in the user expectations when they see either of the two names? Please let me know your thoughts.

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I'd say it's a matter of context.

Edit is good for content, documents, text. (related to: editor, books, newspapers, mags).

Modify is good for tweaking a part of something, maybe text but it could be anything, maybe more visually related adjustments - eg modify shape rather than edit shape?

So - interestingly, you'd be likely to edit your document and modify the header of that document.

Change is good for a choice or a collection of things, like a shopping basket or an order, or for replacing an email address or a password for example. Witness the google search result count (ref @jbreckmckye's reply) for 'change your order' being 75 million.

  • Thanks for your feedback - when it comes to changing numbers of orders (wonder if number is also called 'text'?) - is it editing an order or modifying an order? – Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:50
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    Aha - That's interesting actually. I believe you would more likely change the content of the order, but modify (or change) the quantity of one item in the order. I would use the word change - it's more 'real world language'. Nobody edits or modifies their order when they are at the supermarket...they change it. – Roger Attrill Jul 7 '11 at 20:15
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    Thanks all for sharing your thoughts. I did usability testing and the participants preferred 'Change your order'. – Tara Jul 12 '11 at 0:14
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Users will recognize them as interchangeable, although 'edit' is the more common term. A google search for "edit your order" raises 52 million results, compared to 9.7 million for "modify your order".

Generally, though, you shouldn't worry which one you pick - just that you use it consistently.

One caveat: 'editing' is easy to convey visually with pen-and-pencil images. I don't know of any widespread alternative that fits 'modifying'. Another reason to prefer 'editing'.

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    Thanks for feedback. It is a good idea to check google the word. It did not occur to me. – Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:48
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I'm not a native english speaker, but what I can say is that I'd understand both. Looking at the definition I'd probably go with modify:

Edit:

  • Google Search: Prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.
  • wiktionary.org: To change a text, or a document.

Modify:

  • Google Search: Make partial or minor changes to (something), typically so as to improve it or to make it less extreme.
  • wiktionary.org: To make partial changes to.
  • I am not a native English speaker either. I must have done this basic research myself before posting the question. Thanks for sharing. – Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:44
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Both of them mean to change something, but I see "modify" more often in a commerce setting and "edit" more often when talking about documents. So my gut feeling is that "modify" will seem more natural to your users, but you might want to look at some of your favorite commerce sites to see what they do.

"Change" is another word you might use.

  • Thanks for your response. Yes it is for an ecom application - when it comes to editing an order - I see many popular websites referring to the button such as 'Edit' Cart. – Tara Jul 7 '11 at 19:46
  • If one word is used much more commonly in the places your users visit, you should go with that one absent a good reason not to. – Monica Cellio Jul 7 '11 at 19:55
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As this is an order for something I'd go with "modify your order".

It's the more natural English expression (at least in the UK!) and as such it reads better (to me).

"Edit" implies changing the "thing" - usually text - whereas "modify" is the more general term that applies to everything. You might be seeing more Google hits for "edit" as this usage has grown with the spread of computers and people's acceptance of the "edit" menu on most applications.

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I believe that "edit" is pretty common in database applications. If you search for "edit", "modify" and "change" at iconfinder.com, you'll get more than 1000 hits for "edit" and only 4 hits for "modify" and "change".

That said, I always look at amazon.com when it comes to online shopping and managing orders. Over there they use "View, Modify, Track or Cancel an Order" and they use "Change Account Settings". If you open an order, they use "Change Delivery Address", "Change Payment Method", "Change Shipping Speed" etc...

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As mentioned in other answers, I agree it can depend on the context of what you want to edit or modify. There are idioms to take into account for edit, modify and also change.

Yet since we're talking about user experience here, it's also a matter of end result from the user's point of view:

  • Edit: the user can access something and may alter it. But they may leave it untouched in the end. The action is permissive.
  • Modify: the user is somehow compelled to change something. The action is more directive. It's also quite equivalent to change.

So in your case, if you want your user to alter their order, use modify or change. Between the two, there can be a slight difference in the scope impacted:

  • "modify your order" works better for instance to alter parts of the order (quantity, colour, size, etc.), i.e. "minor changes" as defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary
  • "change your order" works better if you want to swap a whole item for another

Here's an example with a user's address:

  • "edit address" allows the user to alter parts of a registered address (e.g. new street if they moved or correct a part that was wrong)
  • "modify address" invites the user to alter a registered address
  • "change address" invites the user to select a different address from the one that is registered
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Short answer is no, but long answer is that you need to look at the big picture.

When it comes to copy text or labels for your application, it is good to take into consideration the broader picture for a consistency of writing style.

In most design systems, the hierarchy would probably go something like this:

  • Tone of voice from branding guidelines
  • Writing style from corporate or style guidelines
  • Copywriting from UX design guidelines

It is important to take into consideration that you are going to be using these words/labels throughout the application, so deciding on something that will fit with everything else is going to be just as important as making sure that it makes sense at this particular section of the interface.

For example, if there is a view/edit pairing for modes that the user can interact with the application, or if the term is used elsewhere that has the same (or different) context, then ideally you need to make the wording consistent to follow good usability heuristics.

So while there technically might not be a difference between the choice of terms, there is a difference when you look at the bigger picture.

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I think you should check the answers here: enter image description here

Is there a difference of meaning between “edit” and “modify” in this context?

To me modify is more extensive than edit. You could do both by changing the contents, but if you simply changed the properties then you might be said to be modifying but not editing. / Every edit is a modification, but not every modification is an edit.

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