TM&Th blog
Jean-luc Doumont
Is this a quiz?

In a page layout, prominence suggests relative importance.
In particular, boldface stands out from regular type enough
for readers to notice it immediately as they look at the page
and, if the texts set in bold are short enough, read them first.
If they are in a hurry, they might not process anything else.
Usually, then, it makes little sense to highlight words in bold
within a sentence or a paragraph: processed out of context,
these words will most likely not carry the intended meaning.

Periodically, I am reminded of how not to apply prominence,
as I try to save an Excel spreadsheet in so-called CSV format
(comma-separated values) and I get the following dialog box:

Excel dialog box

Whoever formatted this dialog must have realized that the text
was on the long side for a simple warning and therefore opted
to display the more important words in a more prominent way.
Every time I look at the dialog box, however, this is what I see:
“<file> may contain features that are not compatible with CSV
(Comma delimited): no / yes”. What is this, some sort of quiz?
On closer look, the no and yes answers refer to the question
“Do you want to keep the workbook in this format?”; they are,
however, not visually connected to this question in the layout—
neither by proximity (position) nor by similarity (appearance).
This question should be as prominent as the answers, that is,
come first, be set in bold, and perhaps be phrased differently
(Are you sure you want to save this workbook in CSV format?).

The above dialog is up for improvement on other points, too.
Bullets do not, on their own, make a list readable; space does,
such as space between items and correct indentation of lines.
The acronym CSV can best be clarified by its correct expansion
(comma-separated values) instead of the variation shown here.
Finally, given that the dialog appears before the file is saved
in CSV format, the phrases “keep the workbook in this format”
and “keep this format” are misleading, as they seem to refer
to the current format (Excel), not to the requested one (CSV).
If saving the file in CSV format results in irreversible losses,
this operation is perhaps best made available as an export
(an action that keeps the original intact) instead of as a save.

The above entry refers to Microsoft® Excel® 2004 for Mac (version 11.0).
The 2008 edition (version 12.2.0) shuns the layout issues discussed here…
by not providing any warning at all. Rather, if I close the file immediately
after saving it in CSV format, Excel asks me if I want to “save the changes”
I made. What changes?!? Probably what it means is, “Do you want to save
in Excel format the features you have lost in CSV format?” Most confusing.

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