Posted by: Jack Henry | June 19, 2017

Editor’s Corner: How to Write About Drop-Down Lists

Drop-down lists allow users to select one option from a list of options, but they don’t show all options at once.

When a drop-down list is inactive, it displays just one option, as in the following screenshot:

When you click the arrow to the right of the drop-down list (called a “drop-down arrow”), additional options appear:

When you click one of these options, the list returns to its original (collapsed) state, displaying just the option you selected.

Tip: Drop-down lists don’t let you enter free-form text. However, a similar user interface element (a “combo box”) allows you to type or select an option from a list.

How to Describe Drop-Down Lists

The JHA Style Guide says, “Use drop-down (with a hyphen) as an adjective to describe a noun. Do not use drop down [or drop-down] as a noun.”

· Incorrect: Select a value from the drop-down.

· Correct: Select a value from the drop-down list.

The Microsoft Manual of Style goes even further, suggesting, “Use [drop-down] only if necessary to describe how an item works or what it looks like.” Microsoft gives the example, “In the Item list, click Desktop.”

I think either way is fine, depending on the sophistication of your audience. If you’re writing for novice computer users, you might want to include the extra detail:

· Click the Item drop-down list, and then select Desktop.

If you’re writing for intermediate users, it’s probably not necessary to distinguish between drop-down lists and other kinds of lists:

· In the Item list, select Desktop.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

Symitar Documentation Services

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  1. […] Drop-down lists allow users to select one option from a list. Text fields allow users to enter free-form text. A combo box is a combination of a drop-down list and a text field. It allows users to select a value from a list or enter another value that isn’t listed. […]

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