Paul McAleer

Should Isn't Must

Paul McAleer

It’s a small thing, but Mark Meeker at Orbitz recently tweeted:

“Username should be 8 to 14 characters long and must contain at least one letter and one number” - A number? In my username? Really?

And while he was rightfully complaining about a number being required in a username (“Hi, I’m paul893429482@aol.com!”) I picked up on the fact that the error message said should instead of must.

Clearly, this username must be a certain length and must contain a number. There’s no way around it. “Should” is a suggestion. “You know, you should really try a Chick-fil-A sandwich” is a lot different than, “You must eat this burger from White Castle.” I suspect this word was chosen to make the message seem softer but, in the end, it just dilutes the message.

How would I rephrase it if I still had those oddball requirements?

“Sorry, but your username must be 8-14 characters long including 1 letter and 1 number.”

Lesson: when writing error messages, say what you mean. And yes, apologize. The system made this mistake - not the user.

ETA: Even this ridiculous error message I blogged last month got “must” right. “Respect these rules” is a curious choice though.