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Motif and CDE 2.1 Style Guide Reference
An action message is a message displayed in a secondary window that
indicates a condition has occurred that requires a response from the user. The
user can correct the condition and then continue, withdraw the request, or get
There are three kinds of action messages: question messages, warning
messages, and error messages.
Question messagesGets a response to a question. Display question messages when the
user's immediate attention is not required, such as when the user's
data will not be lost or deteriorate with time.
Warning messagesAlerts the user to a possible danger. Display warning messages to give the
user one last chance to retract an operation that is potentially destructive
or reversible only with great difficulty.
Error messagesConveys a message about a critical condition user error. Display error
messages when the user's attention is needed to cancel the text or
correct the situation.
An action message suspends the task until the message is removed. You can
display the message window as an application-modal window if user interaction
with the application is to be restricted. At the very least, you should be
careful about allowing any change of state that would affect the suspended
task. Figure 2 illustrates the types of action messages.
Figure 2. Action Message Types
When to Use
RequiredDisplay a question message when the user must respond to a question before
continuing the task, but only when the task can be suspended indefinitely
without harm and other user activity is unlikely to affect the continuation of
the task at a later time.
RequiredDisplay a warning message to alert the user to a possible danger and to
allow the user to take some alternative action or to withdraw the task
RequiredDisplay an error message when a response is needed before the task can be
continued (or if it is likely that other user actions might make the task
impossible to continue) and if it is essential that either the situation be
corrected or the task canceled.
RequiredDisplay the appropriate symbol to the left of each action message as
follows (except in cases of bidirectional language support; see Chapter
RecommendedIn a warning message, clearly explain the possible danger that can occur.
RecommendedIn an error message, suggest possible actions that the user can take to
correct the situation that caused the message to appear. For example:
Entry must be a hexadecimal value between 0 to 9 or A
to F. Correct entry and choose RETRY.
RecommendedIn the text of an error message, indicate the possible cause of the error.
RequiredDisplay an action message in a secondary window.
RecommendedUse a system-modal secondary window to display the message only if the
user's immediate attention is required and if any user actions outside of
the message window would make it impossible to resume the task or render it
RecommendedUse an application-modal secondary window to display the message if the
user can correct the situation without interacting with the application or
must correct the situation by interacting through the message window.
RecommendedUse a modeless secondary window to display the message if the user cannot
correct the situation by interacting through the message window but must
interact with the application while the message remains displayed.
RecommendedWhen the user cancels a task, leave the objects or data in a form that is
meaningful to the user. For example, when the user requests that an object be
copied, and an error occurs that causes the user to cancel the task while the
object is being copied, remove the partially copied object from the target
RecommendedProvide controls in the message window that allow the user to correct the
situation that caused the message to appear or to request a related
alternative action. For example, provide a text-entry field in which the user
can correct a value, such as the name of the printer to use for printing a
RecommendedProvide a Retry push button that allows the user to continue or retry the
task after correcting the situation that caused the message to appear. In an
error message about a paper jam on the printer, provide a Retry push button
that the user can activate after clearing the jam.
RecommendedProvide a Cancel push button that allows the user to withdraw the task.
RecommendedProvide a Help push button that allows the user to access the Help
information about the task. For example, provide a push button labeled Help
that explains how to unjam the printer.
RecommendedProvide at least the following choices in a question message:
Yes and No (or other appropriate set of answers)
Cancel (optional, use only if all the other choices perform some action)
RecommendedProvide the following choices in an error message:
One choice or two choices labeled Retry and Cancel
Essential Related Topics
For more information, see the Cancel (Action and Choice), Information
Message, Message, Push Button (Predefined), and Warning Signal reference
Supplemental Related Topics
For more information, see Chapter
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