W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org > October 1999

Re: Prompt vs Ask

From: Leonard R. Kasday <kasday@acm.org>
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1999 15:54:27 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: "Gregory J. Rosmaita" <unagi69@concentric.net>
Cc: Evaluation & Repair Interest Group <w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org>, Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>, Phil Jenkins <pjenkins@us.ibm.com>
Howdydo, Gregory,

I'll preface this by saying that although I have strong feelings against
the word "prompt", we have more pressing issues and limited time, so I'm
going to drop this topic after this piece of email, unless other people
also express worry about this word, or unless I am otherwise provoked.
Especially since pursuing this campaign would compel me to stir up AU,
where, you've told us, "prompt" has already received consensus.  

And now into the fray.

Yes, we could define words to mean whatever we want, but it still worries
me. I think it's undesirable to create definitions that conflict with
normal English. I'm afraid that that some scanning the document will think
they know what "prompt" means and not bother to look up our special

Here's what Webster's Ninth New World Collegiate Dictionary says.

prompt (verb) something that prompts
prompt (noun) to move to action; to assist (one acting or reciting) by
suggesting or saying the next words

so the connotation of "prompt" I feel is  "do this now".  So for example,
if you have a dialog window in which you enter the name of an image file,
and you simply have a field for ALT text, that field is not a "prompt" in
the plain English use of the word.  For it do be a prompt, something has to
occur in time. This might be another popup.  

Microsoft's wizard interface is such a common and familiar technique that
I'm afraid that developers to give us a string of wizard boxes, one for
each little item that the tool finds. Wizards may be attractive for
beginners doing one thing only once. But this sort of interface deprives
the user of an overall, editable view of all his or her choices.  

Actually, I shouldn't blame this on Microsoft.  Sequential interfaces date
back to command line times.  Form based interfaces were a big advance.

As for a solution:
I had suggested "Ask" but that also has a time connotation.

Here's my current though: Instead of

"Prompt the user for alternate text in the image"


"Require the user to provide alternate text for the image".

If in spite of the above we stay with "prompt", we need to really highlight
what we mean by it.  I'd suggest making it hypertext everywhere, but that
would really hassle people tabbing through links with screen readers.


>Prompts are requests for user input, either information 
>or a decision. Prompts require author response. 
>the members of the AU WG in attendance agreed that -- given this
definition --
>the term "prompt" did not suggest that a "pop-up" or "dialog" box type
>mechanism was necessary to satisfy any checkpoint which demanded the
>of the author...

Leonard R. Kasday, Ph.D.
Institute on Disabilities/UAP, and
Department of Electrical Engineering
Temple University

Ritter Hall Annex, Room 423, Philadelphia, PA 19122
(215) 204-2247 (voice)
(800) 750-7428 (TTY)
Received on Thursday, 21 October 1999 15:52:57 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 6 January 2015 21:01:29 UTC