Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are Your Error Messages Understandable?

Even though we like to picture ourselves as flawless developers, it’s important to address how our systems will behave when users encounter an error.

I usually break the possible system responses into 3 categories:

1. Bad: The system throws the user out, and potentially deletes the user’s unsaved work.

2. Slightly Better: The system doesn’t throw the user out or lose their work, but brings up a cryptic message in programmer-ese that just confuses the user.

3. Best: The system brings up an error message that’s understandable and informative, and also provides advice on how to avoid or fix the error.

If you hadn’t already guessed, I recommend the third option. However, this is also the most difficult to properly configure, because each system error must be linked to a plain-English explanation.

Emily Wilksa, a former technical writer for Microsoft, has written a helpful article on writing effective error messages. Click here to read it: http://www.writersua.com/articles/message/index.html



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