An example: rental rates displayed to users in a standard, fixed format. Some rates exist for a time period. Some do not. There could be many rows of data in this format on the page. My opinion is that in this case, lots of n/a symbols, or worse, uppercase N/A symbols look ugly, confuse the expectation of numbers, and are not immediately obvious in their meaning to a typical user.

Hour: n/a   Day: $400   Weekend: $9,000   

I've tried a dash, which I like:

Hour: –   Day: $400   Weekend: $9,000  

There don't seem to be any stylistic recommendations on the web that I can easily find. Are there any other ways to show the absence of a value that all users will understand?

  • 1
    What is wrong with n/a?
    – JonW
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 9:33
  • 4
    Not displaying Hour at all or graying it out is another option
    – filip
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 9:44
  • 3
    If there is nothing wrong with n/a, then why are you asking for an alternative? On what basis are we supposed to determine what is "best" when you've given no requirements?
    – user31143
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 11:40
  • 1
    I'd be curious of the context here, if those values are something like budget or spent/earned I'd imagine a $0 would fit quite nicely.
    – DasBeasto
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 13:16
  • 1
    There are lots of non-English speaking people out there. 'n/a' is an abbreviation of English words. If your interface supports other languages you have to find analog in the other language. Or use international symbol
    – oluckyman
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 11:17

1 Answer 1


It largely depends on the context (both visual and user-) around the absence of a value that you're trying to display. If the visual design is as simple as what you've attached, then I'd recommend not going the way of 'microcopy' or 'a fun empty state', and rather, something that's more immediately instructive (like what you have).

'n/a' seems to say, 'not applicable to this instance, don't bother searching for or inputting a value' whereas '-' doesn't communicate that as clearly or speedily. I'd go with the former, and not overthink it.

  • 1
    It's not just that - doesn't communicate "as clearly or speedily". n/a has a specific meaning that a value does not apply in this case. - doesn't have that specific meaning: it just means there is no data (without communicating a reason).
    – user31143
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 11:47
  • 1
    +1 for the phrases 'microcopy' and 'empty state'. As it is, without going into detail, I've decided to not display "Hour: –" or "Day: –" etc. at all for certain items depending on context. In a nutshell, I display "Hour: –" or "Day: –" for items where I don't have a value for those fields but still felt it was important to preserve the structure of the fields for the user. Design is all about context.
    – nmit026
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 22:49

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