Design & UX
By Georgina Laidlaw

10 Interface Typos You Don’t Even Know You’re Making

By Georgina Laidlaw

Is it login or log in? Ebook or eBook? Who even knows any more?

In this article, I’ll highlight the 10 most common user interface typos I see (as in all the time) and help you avoid them.

When I say they’re typos you don’t even know you’re making, I’m not kidding. Some of these typos are so ubiquitous you’ll probably want to argue their inclusion in this list. That’s what the comments are for! Don’t hold back…

1. Login and log in

Probably the most common UI typo is this one.

We see “login” used as a sort of call to action all over the web. But if you’re inviting someone to enter their user name and password to enter your site, it should be “log in”.

Login is a noun—each user has a unique login.

Log in is the verb form. It’s what users do to access their accounts.

2. Signup and sign up

Same deal as above.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed sites that serve more technical audiences seem to use “log in” more often, while sites that serve less technical, more mainstream audiences tend to use the synonym “sign in”.

Whatever you do, don’t confuse “sign in” with “sign up”, which has the same meaning as “join”.

3. Setup and set up

This is the last of these noun/verb confusions, but it’s an important one.

A “setup” is a scenario or situation. If you want someone to “set up” their account, you’ll need the two-word verb form.

I always think this one’s particularly important because, while it seems as simple as “sign up”, to set something up implies work. As a user, I usually expect to sign up to a new site in a moment. But set up my account? I’ll expect that to take some time.

Again, be careful that you’re using the right phrase—and the correct form, noun or verb, as the situation requires.

4. Right-click and right click

One that appears often in interface instructions and help content, “right-click” should be hyphenated.

So should many adjectives that refer to left and right: top-right, bottom-left. And left-hand (unless you choose to write it all as one word: lefthand).

In these terms, hyphens reduce ambiguity and potential confusion. You might argue that there’s not a tonne of ambiguity in telling a user, “Then right click on the file icon.” But it’s not as clear as “Then right-click on the file icon.”

And in a situation where users are already struggling and/or have limited time to take in the message, that little hyphen can be a big help.

Also, if you’re using these words as adjectives (for example, “in the bottom-left corner”), a hyphen is a grammatical necessity.

5. Free and for free

A technicality, but one worth knowing: the terminology “for free” is colloquial, not “proper” English. Which is probably why the phrase

“Buy one, get one free”

is more common than

“Buy one, get one for free.”

We can buy something for a fee, or we can get it free.

6. Everyday and every day

If you’re talking about something that happens every single day, it’s written with a space:

“We’ll send you project updates every day.”

The only time you wouldn’t write every day as two words is when you’re using the phrase as an adjective, to describe something as common or normal:

“Just part of our everyday service.”

So you might have “everyday low prices”, but “low prices every day.”

7. Instore and in store

This term, which is most commonly used by brick and mortar retailers with an online presence, follows the same rules as “everyday” and “every day.”

You might offer “instore specials” but you’d have “great specials in store” for customers who take up your offer in the next 24 hours, for example.

8. Through and thru

Ha! If this one made you look twice, don’t worry. My point here isn’t that these terms are used differently—it’s that “thru” isn’t a word.

It might be a colloquial short for of “through” that you use, for example, in a text to your business partner because you can’t be bothered typing “clickthrough” on your phone, but that’s about as far as it goes.

You’re not texting your customers off the cuff; you can probably afford the time and respect to write “through”, including every single one of its lovely letters.

9. Discount on and discount off

This one’s more justifiably confusing.

Apple dictionary defines a discount as a “deduction from the usual cost of something”; my pocket Oxford describes it as a “discount from the amount due.”

So a discount automatically entails a reduction. While “discount off” isn’t quite a double-negative, it’s not accurate or grammatically correct.

Your price might be discounted from the normal price, and customers might get a discount on their next purchase. But “discount off” doesn’t make any sense.

10. Email, eBook and others

What’s right? Email or eMail? Ebook or eBook? What if we use iPhone at the start of a sentence?

Easiest to grasp are brand names and other proper nouns. If Apple says it’s iPhone, then that’s what it is, whether it’s at the start of a sentence or not.

But e-prefixed terms like email and ebook aren’t proper nouns. They deserve no capital unless they’re starting a sentence. And what does the world of English grammar tell us about capitalizing the word at the start of a sentence? Capitalize the first letter.

So it’s not “eBook sales have soared.” It’s “Ebook sales have soared.” The same usage applies to “email”.

You might hyphenate e-prefixed words within your organization or business, as dictated by your style guide. But the capitalization rules I’ve mentioned here should still apply.

Check your interface

Check your interfaces and emails, and see how many of these typos you’re making. I’ll bet you’ll find a few. As I said above, these errors are everywhere.

If you’ve spotted these, or others, on your site, let us know in the comments.

  • Anonymous

    As an editor, this is my kind of article. So, let me be the first to take issue. Regarding the fourth point, I think you’re omitting cases where the words are deliberately used as an adjective followed by a noun, such as in the title of Ursula K. Le Guin’s book The Left Hand of Darkness. In that case, surely neither a hyphen nor running the words together is appropriate.

    • Georgina

      Yep, spot on Ricky. Hyphenate where left- or right-hand’s being used as an adjective. Where ‘hand’ is the noun in the clause, it’s left unhyphenated, as in Le Guin’s title :)

      Nice pick up!

    • Stevie D

      Ricky – the difference is that in “The Left Hand of Darkness”, ‘hand’ is a noun, and ‘left’ is an adjective – whereas in “the left-hand side of the page”, ‘side’ is a noun, and ‘left-hand’ is an adjectival phrase. It’s because they combine to form a single part of speech that they need to be hyphenated in that case, but not in your example.

      On another note, a good reason to hyphenate ‘right-click’ for clarity is that it draws the reader’s attention to the fact that you didn’t just say ‘click’ … if the two words are separated by a space, someone skim-reading might easily miss the ‘right’.

      • Anonymous

        Stevie D, that’s specifically what I said. The only reason I raised it is that Georgina didn’t, which she acknowledged. I’d point out that not only do they form a “single part of speech” when hyphenated, they form an adjective. If you didn’t hyphenate them, you’d have an adjective followed by a noun followed by another noun, which would be confusing.

        Another question I’d raise, though, is whether it’s really smart to use “left-hand side of the page” at all. Wouldn’t it be clearer, and more concise, to say “left side of the page”? I don’t think that applies to “left-click”, though. You really need both the adjective and the noun, connected by a hyphen, to make the meaning clear.

        I love this stuff.

  • Zac

    Nice article, definitely clears some things up for me!

  • Anon

    Regarding the first comment: Titles have different rules than text.
    Regarding the article: I was delighted to see the proper use of “free” pointed out. “For free” is just sloppy talk.

  • Ken

    I like “Log into…” and Login to…”

  • Chad

    Also “left- or right-handed,” not “left or right-handed.”

  • Nick

    A little trick I use. “Set me up” versus “whats my setup”. “Log me in” versus “my login”. If you can add ‘me’ in between and it makes sense, it is two words.

  • Susheel

    Very informative. Thank you for sharing.

  • R

    Clarifies a lot! :)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for confirming that I’m not totally paranoid when I correct the “log in” and “sign up” usages in most web projects to which I contribute!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with most of the article except instore should be in-store, IMHO

  • Shayne Tilley

    I agree that you’re right G. But I reserve the right to ignore you :)

  • Mark

    OMG I love this stuff, it’s like being on CiF

  • Anonymous

    What is the consensus on ‘Internet’ vs ‘internet’?

  • Anonymous

    According to Merriam Webster Unabridged:

    email noun āˈmī, āmȧȧy = “a moderate bluish green to greenish blue that is lighter than gendarme, deeper than cyan blue, and duller than parrot blue — called also bleu Louise”

    e–mail noun = “a means or system for transmitting messages electronically (as between terminals linked by telephone lines or microwave relays)”

    Should we obey the dictionary and write “email” as “e-mail” when appropriate?

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