7. Constructing Text

Graphical User Interfaces

A graphical user interface (GUI) provides the user with an intuitive way of interacting with a computer and its applications. The main purpose of a GUI is to make the activities involved in doing a task simple and quick. Common GUIs require a person to use a mouse or some other pointing and selecting device. GUIs are typically built around windows, which provide a simple means to manipulate files and directories. Icons, which are small pictorial representations of a base window, are often used to simplify access to a program, command, or data file.

Using GUI Terminology

Although many computer users today are very familiar with GUIs, you may still need to explain to novice computer users the basic concepts of the GUI and how to work in it. In the preface, define terms you use throughout your document, such as "point," "click," "double-click," "select," or "choose." You also can provide a figure of a typical window to clarify terms.

Once you have established how to work in a GUI, you can concentrate on writing about the task the user wants to accomplish, not on describing the detailed steps required to initiate the task. For example, a user rarely chooses menu items or clicks buttons with the goal of displaying other menus or dialog boxes, but rather to accomplish a task that is activated by the menu item or button.

When writing about GUIs:

    For example, if you've told the user to choose Print from the File menu and the Print window is displayed, and you want them to work in the Print window, there's no need to keep saying "in the Print window."

    For example, mention that a menu is a pop-up menu or a message is a status message only if that information is germane to the task at hand.

When writing about a mouse, note that:

    Keep the user's attention focused on the screen by writing about the pointer, not the mouse, even though a user moves the pointer on the screen by moving the mouse.

Writing About Windows, Menus, and Dialog Boxes

A GUI includes the basic elements in which the application displays text and the user interacts with the application: windows, window controls, dialog boxes, and menus. Figure 7-1 and Figure 7-2 show common window elements and controls.

Window Elements

A window is the main, rectangular area in which application elements are displayed. The elements in a window vary from application to application.

    Figure 7-1 Window Elements

Window Controls

Controls in windows enable the user to perform an action. These are some common window controls:

    Figure 7-2 Window Controls

Dialog Boxes

A dialog box is a pop-up window in which the user enters information or commands to the application. Figure 7-3 shows various types of dialog boxes.

    Figure 7-3 Dialog Boxes


A menu or a submenu is a list of application options, as shown in Figure 7-4.

    Figure 7-4 Menus and Submenus

When you first write about choosing items or settings from a menu, use step-by-step instructions. If an option name includes an ellipsis mark, do not include the ellipsis mark when mentioning the menu item in text.

Here is an example of steps that use menu options.

    To paste text:

    1. Press the left mouse button on the Edit button in the menu bar.

      The Edit menu is displayed.

    2. Drag the pointer to the Paste item and release the mouse button.

      The contents of the clipboard are placed at the insertion point.

After you have explained how menus work, you can streamline the process
by saying "Choose Paste from the Edit menu."

Common GUI Verbs

When writing about GUIs, reserve certain verbs for specific activities, as described in Table 7-6.

    Table 7-6 GUI Verbs

Verb      Action                                    Example
Choose To open a menu or initiate Choose New from the File menu. a command. Save your file, and then choose Print. Click To press and release a mouse button Click the left mouse button. without moving the pointer. Copy To place a duplicate of the selection Copy the first figure in Appendix B. on the clipboard. Cut To remove the selection from the Cut the second entry in the list. current location and place it on the clipboard. Dismiss To close a window. Dismiss the Shell Tool window. Display To open a window. Display the Default Properties window. Double- To click a mouse button twice Double-click on the Mosaic icon click quickly without moving the pointer. to reopen the program. Drag To move the pointer or an object by Drag the pointer to draw a text box. sliding the mouse with one or more buttons pressed. Drag the icon to the upper-left corner of the screen. Move To move the pointer on the Move the pointer outside of the workspace by sliding the mouse Mail window. with no buttons pressed. Open To start an application, or to access a Open the FrameMaker icon. document, file, or folder. Open the Samples document. Paste To place the clipboard contents at the Paste the figure into Chapter 3. insertion point. Point To move the pointer to a specific Point to the Trash icon and click location on the screen by moving the to select it. mouse with no buttons pressed. (Once the user is familiar with mouse techniques, you do not have to use this term; you can simply write "Click the Trash icon.") Press To push a mouse button down and Press the left mouse button on the hold it. File button. (Don't say "press and hold down" since the action of pressing includes holding down the button.) Release To let up on a mouse button Release the left mouse button when to initiate an action. the Print button is highlighted. Select To highlight an entire window or Select the Compose window. data in a window. Select the second sentence. Size To enlarge or decrease the size Size the Text Editor window so that of a window. you can display more characters per line. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------