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Monday, Sep. 15, 2008 at 6:46 am

Label (as well as write) with Strong Verbs

By Jeff Sexton
September 15th, 2008

“Write with strong verbs” is probably second only to “Show, don’t tell” within the pantheon of writing advice, mostly because strong verbs foreground action in the mind of the reader.   Indeed, Future Now has long recommended that calls to action should begin with strong imperative verbs.   So we were certainly pleased to see that good user interface design also recommends the use of verbs for button labels.

Just check out the examples provided by Dmitry Fadeyev over at The Usability Post and ask yourself: what’s clearer?

Word Pad

Or this:TextEdit

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Comments (6)

  1. I agree action verbs are a must. My issue is what an action verb is and what a passive verb…is

    I have audio samples I want people to listen to. I could say, ‘Listen to Moses divide the Red Sea’ or ‘Play Audio, Moses divides the Red Sea’ or ‘Hear Audio, Moses divide the Red Sea’

    I am not sure what a stronger action verb is. Plus do I make the whole line a text link or put the action word on a button and the phase like ‘Moses divide the Red Sea’ on a text link beside each other?

    Suggest which action verb is better.

  2. Audio Bible,

    Action verbs = Imperative verbs = commands where the implied subject is “you.” Technically, all of your examples are imperative verbs; you are speaking to the reader and ‘commanding’ them to listen, play, and hear. That said, if you are describing a text-based hyperlink, then your first example is probably the best, and, yes, you’d want to underline/hyperlink the entire phrase.

    If you’re talking about using buttons, then the second example would probably work best, where “Play Audio” is in a larger font, and where “moses divides the Red Sea” is in a smaller font (within the button) used to describe the content of the audio. But hey, this is the web, right? Why not test all three phrases?


  3. I’m wondering what the impact of using an imperative at the beginning of the question AND on the buttons would be. Removing “Do you want to…” and just using “Save changes to xxxxx.doc?” Don’t Save Cancel Save

    Someone commented on the original post that the spacing between Don’t Save and Cancel is a great idea because it may minimize accidental saves or don’t saves – I agree this is smart. Of course I’d love to see testing for accidents on this. Any takers? :)

  4. [...] the other hand, Option B does when very important thing right, that Option A doesn’t: it labels with strong verbs!  Rather than guessing that the magnifying glass means “search,” I can look at the big [...]

  5. I think it’s fairly obvious that option B is what we’re going for here. It’s a battle between “what has always been” and convention, vs newer useable methods like this.

    If only the rest of the application world would catch up.. ahem.. Microsoft!

  6. I searched it on google and find this page. Its very useful many thanks.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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