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Which is the industry standard for technical communication when referring to the menu that opens when a user right-clicks 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 at my work, and both terms have been used interchangeably and inconsistently 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, shortcut menu seems right to me. The Microsoft Manual of Style uses this term, 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 the tradition because of the usage history with our customers, or upgrade to the current lingo to be within industry standards?

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    ...anyway, I thought they were called context menus. – FumbleFingers Feb 25 '16 at 17:49
  • Whatever you choose, "shortcut menu" by itself is a BAD CHOICE as there are numerous "shortcut menus" besides the context menu / mouse right-click menu. For example, I use Alt+Spacebar to access the window control menu (min, max, close, etc.) a lot in Windows 10 (and back through NT and at least 95 -- maybe 3.1, but I'd have double check 3.1). – BillR May 31 '19 at 23:36
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They are called context menus:

A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) that appears upon user interaction, such as a right-click mouse operation. A context menu offers a limited set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Usually the available choices are actions related to the selected object. From a technical point of view, such a context menu is a graphical control element.

From the Wikipedia page, it seems that shortcut menu is also a commonly accepted synonym, however context menu is the correct term.


Another answer has mentioned that iOS calls them 3D Touch menus, however I would point you to the developer guides where the Force Touch-activated menus are called context menus:

Instead of just tapping items on the screen, pressing the screen with a small amount of force activates the context menu (if any) associated with the current interface controller.

Context menu also applies more widely than your current term (of right-click menu) because a context menu can apply in any situation, whereas a right-click menu implies that a mouse has to be used.

For example, Mac OS uses the terms primary and secondary click (instead of left and right-click) because these terms can also be used to describe the equivalent action on their macbook trackpads, which have no buttons.


Of course, the term context menu might be alien to your target audience. If you are going to use this term in a final product you may want to call it something system-specific (i.e., detect the user's set-up, and call it "right-click menu", "3D Touch menu", etc.)

However, because you've stated that this term will be for use at your workplace, then you should use context menu, as it is the industry-recognised term for these types of menu.

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This comes down to a question about which domain you are communicating with. Among people who design interfaces, this thing tends to be called a context menu. But the average user will have no idea what that means. To the average user, "right-click menu" is far more descriptive and relates directly to something they know.

Tech comm has a real problem with the fixation on "industry standard terms". Consistency fanatics love them because they are consistent. Industry insiders love them because they are insider terms. Just about everyone in the industry, therefore, will tell you to use the industry standard term.

The only problem with this is that, in many cases, your users are not in your industry and have no idea what industry standard terms mean. (Nor are they remotely interested in learning them.)

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    Does "right-click menu" resonate for MacOS or touchscreen users? – choster Feb 25 '16 at 18:21
  • It may not. There is a genuine hard problem with this, because abstract terms like "context menu" don't resonate either. People think in concrete terms, so where you are writing about something that may have different concrete implementations on different platforms, you have to choose between an abstract terms that on one understands, producing different versions with the right concrete term of each platform, or using a concrete term you think the most people might know and hoping the rest catch on. Or you could link on the abstract terms to a page describing what it means on each platform. – mbakeranalecta Feb 25 '16 at 18:31
  • It didn't fix itself, but I fixed it. Thanks for the catch. – mbakeranalecta Feb 25 '16 at 19:34
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'Right click menu' applied to desktop/laptop. Right click menu in latest IOS device called as 3D Touch menu.

I do not know on android and Microsoft OS.

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