Productive Ambiguity

In general, specificity in writing makes things clearer… but not always. I was recently working on some UI text for a set of filters over a list of software update notices. Based on your selected user profile, we show you just the notices about the software we think you’d use. So how should we label the ‘select all’ checkbox that activates all user profiles?

The specific and accurate option would be something like ‘Select All User Types‘, but that makes the user think about our system for showing content, rather than what content they want to see, interrupting their process.

Select All Updates‘ is closer to what the user wants, but now we have to make sure that the noun ‘updates’ matches what they expect to see… and we never called the content ‘updates‘ or anything else, we just showed it to them. So being specific is actually introducing a problem where one didn’t exist.

After talking this through, I suggested ‘Show All‘. No mention of selecting filters or what the system does with those filters. Just get right to it. In cases where user expectations may be vague, consider matching that with ambiguous language.