Documentation

Referring to the vertical and horizontal ellipses

I’m part of the Write the Docs (WTD) Slack channel, where technical communicators and other professionals who write the docs share ideas and knowledge. Every morning, I open the Slack channel and read the discussions so I can learn something new every day. Recently, one of the members asked how he should refer to the following three-dotted symbols that appear in the graphical user interface (GUI) he’s working on:

… or ⋮

You’ve seen these symbols used for menus, overflow menus, and additional options or actions. Now, how should writers refer to them in user guides and other documentation? Should writers call them vertical and horizontal ellipses because that’s what these symbols are? (e.g., “Click the horizontal ellipsis icon […] to view additional options.”)

As we found out, there are no industry standards. Some suggestions on Google were:

Though there was no formal end to the discussion, many of us agreed that technical communicators who use these ellipses should:

  1. Refer to what the symbol does rather than what it looks like so its usage is clear and easy to understand.
  2. Add an inline icon so the reader would instantly know what UI element the writer is referring to.

When we apply these guidelines, this is what we get:

Click More ⋮ to view additional options.

We can also apply these guidelines to the so-called “hamburger menu” ☰. Start by never calling it the hamburger menu in the docs because that doesn’t tell the reader what it does, just what it looks like. Instead, do this:

Click Menu ☰ and select Home.

We all want our readers to understand our documentation. Though these guidelines will help us in the meantime, I wonder what the industry standard will be in the future.