5 Rules for Choosing the Right Words on Button Labels

UX Movement
May 21 · 5 min read

What your buttons say is as important as how they look. Using the wrong words on your button labels cause users confusion, more work, and slower task times. If you want to make it easy for users to take action on your app, you need to choose the right words on your button labels.

Here are five rules to help you choose the right words to make your buttons actionable. Follow these five rules and your users will have no trouble taking the right action on your app whenever they see a button.

Rule 1: Use Action Verbs

Your button labels should inspire users to act with action verbs. When users read an action verb, they know what the button will do. This allows them to take action without having to read any supporting text such as confirmation dialog.

Compare that with generic “yes/no” button labels often used on confirmation screens. Users have to read the dialog before they can take action. If they skip or misread the dialog, they’ll press the wrong button. This not only makes taking action riskier, but it forces users to do more work.

To illustrate, the example below blocks out the dialog so that only the buttons are visible. The button labels with action verbs allow users to take action, but the buttons that use “Yes/No” labels don’t. Action verb button labels are more task-efficient.

Rule 2: Use Precise Diction

Each action verb you use has a specific connotation. If your diction isn’t precise, users can misinterpret what the button will do.

For example, the words “delete” and “remove” are similar in meaning, but different in connotation. “Delete” implies that the button will erase the item from the system. “Remove” implies that the button will separate the item from a group. Using these words in the wrong context can cause users concern when they press the button.

In a playlist, the “delete” label makes users think they’ll lose their song. This is the wrong word choice because that’s not what happens. The “remove” label is more precise because the action takes the song out of the playlist, but does not destroy it.

Rule 3: Use Task-Specific Language

A vague and generic button label causes uncertainty in users. They’re unsure what the button will do because the label doesn’t specify. Users need to know the end result of their actions and only task-specific language can do this.

To illustrate, the word “submit” is a technical term you can use for most buttons. But that would make the button labels vague and generic. When users read it, it’s unclear what happens because the label is not specific to the task.

In contrast, the word “post” is specific to online publishing. As a result, users get the impression that the app will publish their content to the public after they press the button. This button label is clearer and gives users certainty to act.

Rule 4: Use the Active Imperative Form

Too many words on a button label makes users read more. When you use the imperative form in an active voice, you minimize the number of words and make the button label easier to scan.

The active imperative form turns verb phrases into commands. This allows you to drop the subject and unnecessary articles to make your button label concise. All you need to include on your button label is a verb with an adverb or direct object.

Users trust commands on button labels more. It gives them certainty that the button will perform the intended action, which helps their decision-making.

When using the active imperative form, avoid instructional verbs that tell users how to use their device. A common mistake is to use “click here” in a button label. This not only makes the label wordy, but it’s also generic and redundant for the user. Instead, use verbs that are unique and describe the action to give users an incentive to “click.”

Rule 5: Use Sentence-Style Capitalization

The capitalization style of your button label expresses your tone to users. Tone isn’t what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. This creates an emotional reaction in users that either engages or repels them.

A sentence-style capitalization is best because it conveys a friendly tone that invites users to press your buttons. Users are most familiar with sentence case because they’re used to reading sentences. When they read it on your buttons, it feels like someone is speaking to them in a natural voice.

In contrast, title-style capitalization has a more formal tone. A formal tone feels impersonal and makes your buttons less inviting to press. It makes users feel like someone is speaking to them in a stilted voice. Title case breaks the natural reading flow and distracts users from the underlying message.

An all uppercase style isn’t good because it conveys a loud tone. Users feel as if someone is yelling at them to press the button. Not only that, but it also has lower readability because of the lack of word shape. This makes it less accessible for users with dyslexia.

An all lowercase style conveys a careless and lazy tone in a mumbling voice. It makes users feel as if no care or attention was put into the button label. Users can sense a lack of professionalism and not trust the button.

Actions Speak as Loud as the Words

With button labels, the action speaks as loud as the words. If you choose the wrong words on your button labels, the call to action won’t matter.

The five rules will guarantee that your buttons get some action. No longer will users have uncertainty or confusion when they read your buttons. Instead, your button labels will give them the clarity and motivation to take the right action.


Originally published at https://uxmovement.com on May 21, 2019.

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