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It used to be that you could tell a user (in documentation or in onscreen prompts) to, let's say, "Click a button, or right-click to display a menu."

Nowadays, there are multiple ways to display a menu, including:

  1. Right-click if you have a multi-button mouse.
  2. Two-finger tap with some touch pads and Apple's Magic Mouse.
  3. Clicking the right side of the touch pad on older systems.
  4. Ctrl-click on a Mac.
  5. Alt-click in other OS's, like ChromeOS, etc.
  6. And a variety of other methods that might work for touch screens, such as Long-tap.

If a user knows the proper method for their system, you could simply say, "Display the context menu." But, we can't assume they know what a context menu is. And you can't just say "menu" because that could be confused with the menu bar.

Is there a current convention for this?

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In an online or in-app documentation, it is possible to detect the OS and to tailor the message for the right OS.

Though it might be wise to display a manual switch of the target OS if a user might check the documentation on their mobile devices while actually working on a PC/Mac.

For a default if OS-detection fails, my experience is that the Mac/mobile/touch screen users are more capable of figuring out right click into the appropriate action than the other way round.

Also, if you don't need the other gestures for other actions, it might be wise to open the context menu on all of: right click, alt+click, ctrl+click, double click, long touch, double tap, tap with second finger, ...

  • 1
    @Aprillon: i appreciate and have selected your answer. Thank you for suggesting OS detection. It's worth noting, though, that many devices can be used with a particular OS. For instance, a Mac could have a multi-button mouse, or a Magic Mouse, and/or a touch pad. I agree and have implemented detection for all options. Thank you for confirming that Mac users are familiar with the term "right click". – Alan M. Apr 17 '16 at 16:11
  • though when you check with actual users, it might turn out that they all understand what is "context menu"... – Aprillion Apr 17 '16 at 17:44
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I think that the best is to call the context menu by its name. Not only this is the correct term, but it's also self-explanatory.

Your documentation should make sure at the very beginning that the user knows how to make the context menu pop out (right click, double tap, etc.). If it's an in-app documentation, explain the way to do that in the current OS. If it's online/paper documentation, make sure this is explained clearly for any OS.

Then, all throughout the documentation, simply write something on the line of: "To display the latest weather data, open the context menu and select Refresh".

  • yes, it is well known that users read documentation from the very beginning... on a less sarcastic note, the context menu phrase could be a link to the explanation. from my personal experience, "right click" was easier to explain than "context menu" to non-technical users and the technical users understand it very well what it means even with a device without right button. but I have no experience with non-technical teenagers that never seen a 2-button mouse, only with adults who all had some experience with Windows (good or bad) – Aprillion Apr 17 '16 at 17:41

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