Correct Usage of the Ellipsis (…) in UI Text

Trying to figure out when and why to use the ellipsis within UI can be somewhat confusing. It isn’t always your best bet to look at other products for the answer because the guidelines are often not followed. If that’s the case, you might be wondering, if the big software companies don’t even get it right, then why should I care. Well, even though it won’t make your app crash, proper usage of the ellipsis will allow your users to be more informed about what will happen when they initiate a command.

Here’s what the ‘big boys’ have to say on the matter:

Windows User Experience Interaction Guidelines

Proper use of ellipses is important to indicate that users can make further choices before performing the action, or even cancel the action entirely. The visual cue offered by an ellipsis allows users to explore your software without fear.

This doesn’t mean you should use an ellipsis whenever an action displays another window—only when additional information is required to perform the action. Consequently, any command button whose implicit verb is to “show another window” doesn’t take an ellipsis, such as with the commands About, Advanced, Help (or any other command linking to a Help topic), Options, Properties, or Settings.

Generally, ellipses are used in user interfaces to indicate incompleteness. Commands that show other windows aren’t incomplete—they must display another window and additional information isn’t needed to perform their action. This approach eliminates screen clutter in situations where ellipses have little value.


Apple Human Interface Guidelines

When it appears in the name of a button or a menu item, an ellipsis character (…) indicates to the user that additional information is required before the associated operation can be performed. Specifically, it prepares the user to expect the appearance of a window or dialog in which to make selections or enter information before the command executes.


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