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Which is the industry standard to average end-users when referring to the menu that opens when they right-click an item on a screen? Is it called the 'right-click menu' or the 'shortcut menu'?

I'm trying to establish a standard for instructional manuals, but both terms have been used interchangeably and inconsistently at my work for over a decade. We have a well-established customer base that has been drilled with 'right-click menu,' so I'm hesitant to change it. Also, because our average readership isn't tech savvy, it seems an elementary way of associating the action with the item, which might be good.

However, the Microsoft Manual of Style uses 'shortcut menu,' and Google Ngram suggests that the term is the most popular. Are there any guidelines for choosing one over the other? Should I continue with tradition because of the usage history with our customers, or upgrade to the current lingo to be within industry standards?

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    I often see it referred to as the "context menu", but it can be triggered by something else than right-click. – Drown Feb 25 '16 at 18:07
  • So I assume that this manual covers only the desktop and not the mobile device use cases? I personally think that context menu is broad enough to cover both instances, although the difference is subtle (as evidenced by the term being used interchangeably). – Michael Lai Feb 26 '16 at 1:01
  • I've always called it the "right-click context menu." Using both terms in one both explains what it is and how to access it. – VampDuc Feb 26 '16 at 18:37
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This might just be semantics plus a little bit of drift in the use of the terminology, but a 'right-click' menu is a type of 'shortcut' menu, whereas a 'shortcut' menu might not be a 'right-click' menu.

The reason is that the 'right-click' menu describes a menu that is triggered by a specific user interface interaction, mostly often the right click button of a mouse. A 'shortcut' menu generally refers to a cut-down version of the complete menu, presented within a specific context of the application usage or a particular workflow where other items in the menu are not applicable and therefore not displayed.

The term 'context/context-sensitive' menu covers a broader concept of menus that are not fixed/static (i.e. always in a specific position or state), such that its location and state is determined by a specific context. This could be when triggered by a right-click action, or when they are accessing the menu while performing a certain task.

Hopefully this helps to make the correct distinction and determine the most appropriate use of the term for your purposes.

  • “Context” is correct. The context comes from the fact that the menu is attached to the item you clicked on. – Simon White Feb 26 '16 at 12:57

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