E-mail or Email, Does it Really Matter?

I have been reading through datasheets, websites, product literature and user guides for years. I'm a product guy and I like to pay attention to the details. You can tell a lot about a company by the words they choose, and the way they use them. When a company uses different words, with different capitalization, and different spelling, that's a sign of trouble.

On the other hand, when I come across a website where the words are well chosen and consistent, there is an obvious attention to detail and it's easier to build trust and a relationship with that company... and I like that.

Take a look at the words you use within your product and within your literature. Make sure you are consistent and the same words are used throughout your entire organization. Here are a few common words used in software today that companies often stumble upon:

1. E-mail, Email, or email - This is a pet peeve, especially going across product UI, datasheets and user guides. It doesn't really matter which one you choose, just choose one and make sure it's used consistently in all communications.

2. Login, login, log in, log-in, Sign in, sign in, or sign on. - Here, again, it's important to choose one and stick with it. But it's also important to question which one you use. Are you keeping a log of your customer activities and that's why you need them to log in? Are you authenticating the user, in which case you need them to sign in? Ask around and find out what is best for your company—then stick with it!

3. Logout, or log out. - The same goes with logging out of a system, signing off, and so forth. Determine which is most accurate for your product or service and stick with it.

4. Alert, Warning, Notification, or Message - This is where it gets a little more complicated. If you use these words interchangeably it can cause stress for your users. I've seen user interface alerts that are just messages, and I've seen notifications that really should be alerts. Make sure you define these clearly for your engineers and don't be lazy when you QA the product. It's also important to understand how icons are used for alerts, warnings, notifications and messages. Don't use them interchangeably and, of course, don't mix them in your literature.

5. Host, Hostname, Service, Server, URL - I often catch large companies, like Microsoft or Apple, using different words to describe the location of their online services. Typically these are hidden in error code, which makes it even harder to catch. For example, when you download an app and it requires you to enter a URL so you can connect to a service, if you enter a bad URL you get an error. If an engineer coded this error at 2AM the day before code-freeze, it's possible he didn't use the right words.

Take a look at your product or service, read through your documentation and see if you can find any inconsistencies. It's not easy, but it's worth the effort. You'll earn the respect of your customers by paying attention to the details.

So in answer to the question of whether you spell email as email or E-mail—it really doesn’t matter just pick one and stick with it.

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