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Mice - John C. Kirk

Oct. 19th, 2006

08:42 pm - Mice

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I'm working on some computer documentation at the moment, aimed at novice users, and I'm wondering about terminology. More specifically, I'm thinking about mouse buttons, since they are (or can be) reversed for someone who's left handed, meaning that the instruction "right-click on that folder" may not be accurate. The more generic phrasing that I've come across in the past refers to primary and secondary buttons, and then these logical concepts get assigned to physical buttons by the individual user. The problem is that most people won't know what they mean, and the terms get a bit more unwieldy. Since I'm writing for people who aren't very good with computers, I want to keep my instructions as simple as possible. The alternative would be to refer to standard button assignments ("left-click"/"right-click"), on the basis that this will be applicable to the majority of readers and the minority will probably be used to taking an extra step on their own.

So, a poll:

Poll #848791 Mouse buttons

What's the best way to refer to mouse buttons?

"Left click"/"right click"
11(84.6%)
"Primary click"/"secondary click"
1(7.7%)
"If you're right handed, click the left button. If you're left handed, click the right button."
0(0.0%)
Just tell people to RTFM and figure it out for themselves
0(0.0%)
Other (specified in comment)
1(7.7%)

Which way round is your mouse configured?

Right handed
11(91.7%)
Left handed
1(8.3%)

Comments:

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From:psiphiorg
Date:October 19th, 2006 08:32 pm (UTC)
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I'd say use the "standard" version, "left-click" and "right-click", but maybe add a note near the beginning that for left-handed mice, the buttons are reversed.

davidh
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From:susannahf
Date:October 19th, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
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I didn't answer the second question as I use a left-handed mouse at home, and a right-handed one at work. This evens out the wear on my hands and limits the worst pain.

So many places use "left-click" and "right-click" that I don't think of them as the other way round of my left handed mouse. I'd get more confused if you reversed them for me. But then, anyone who has asked me for directions will know that I have fluid definitions of left and right anyway.
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From:susannahf
Date:October 19th, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)
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Oh and option 3 will confuse the many lefties that use a right-handed mouse, including those that switch which side of the keyboard it is, but don't reverse the buttons. See, we have to live in your world, but you can't survive in ours (have you ever seen a rightie try to use a left-handed mouse?).

Don't even get me started on default shipping of "ergonomic" mice that force right-handed use.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 19th, 2006 10:18 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I deliberately phrased the second question to refer to the mouse rather than the person, but it gets a bit more tricky to explain the different options in instructions. I would assume that it's possible to get (or at least build) left-handed curved mice, but I don't think I've ever seen any. And I am trying to be nice to left-handed people by not forcing rightie thinking on you all :)
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From:shuripentu
Date:October 20th, 2006 09:46 am (UTC)
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I have seen right-handed people try to use my left-handed mouse many times and it's always mildly hilarious, even for people who have used my computer in the past.

Can I just say that I despise ergonomic mice? I'm planning on saving up for the Logitech left-handed ergonomic one sometime, just to get my own back.
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From:bazzalisk
Date:October 19th, 2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
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You missed off the "I have an apple mouse" option ...
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 19th, 2006 11:05 pm (UTC)
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I'm reliably informed that Apple mice have more than one button nowadays, so I assume that there's some way to configure them for handedness :) More seriously, the documentation I'm doing is very Windows specific, so I don't need to worry about Mac users.

Mind you, this does bring up an extra issue - my mouse at work has side buttons (quite handy for going "Back" while web browsing), so I may need to clarify the instructions to specify that I mean the two big buttons on top of the mouse...
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From:totherme
Date:October 20th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC)
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How feasible would it be to have diagrammes instead of words? Like, a little U shaped representation of a mouse, with the bit you're supposed to press highlighted. A small image you can use inline in the text.

I've seen these in some linux thingies - particularly the enlightenment window manager, in which if you hover the mouse over a thing, a tooltip pops up to tell you how the thing'll react when you press different buttons.

The advantage of this is that in the common case of the clueless user, it shows precisely what they need to do, and avoids additional definitions, clarifications, etc which would go right over their heads. If you've got additional weird buttons on your mouse, it clearly doesn't mean them.

The only place it falls down is if people have actively changed their own setup - such as the reversed mouse buttons that many left handers (and some right handers). I'm sure that's not the only non-standard mouse setup, and pretty sure that anyone who uses it knows about it :)

Oh - having said all that, I'm presuming these are paper docs? If you're writing docs to be read on-line, maybe they could be dynamic ;)
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From:sulkyblue
Date:October 20th, 2006 08:50 am (UTC)
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If they're computer savy enough to be able to switch the default mouse behaviour, they're savy enough to realise they've done it and mentally switch the labels. I would say it's sufficient that the first time you say it you say "left click* *if you have switched your mouse to 'left handed' settings all these will be reversed" or something more coherent.

Personally I auto-translate left-click to primary click and actually only get confused when I start to think about left and right ;0)
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From:shuripentu
Date:October 20th, 2006 09:47 am (UTC)
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I was about to say, if this is documentation for novice computer users, then stick with left/right click since I doubt the left-handed ones will even realise they can switch the buttons around. On the other hand, if they can work out how to switch the buttons around, they're probably smart enough to work out what you really mean when you say left/right click.
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