Posted by: Jack Henry | April 9, 2018

Editor’s Corner: How to Write About Combo Boxes

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.

The Font Size combo box in Microsoft® Word is a good example. At first glance, it looks like a drop-down list:

If you click the drop-down arrow, you can select from a list of options:

However, you can also enter a font size that isn’t listed. For example, you can type 13:

How to Describe Combo Boxes

The phrase “combo box” may not be familiar to all readers. It is not worth using a potentially confusing term when it’s not necessary.

If you are just telling readers to type something into a combo box, call it a field. If you are telling them to select something, call it a drop-down list.

Example: In the Font Size field, type 13.

Example: In the Font Size drop-down list, select 11.

If you are giving readers a choice between typing something or selecting something from the list, call it a field.

Example: In the Font Size field, enter or select the font size you want to use.

When You Can’t Avoid Saying “Combo Box”

If you are writing about the user interface itself, it is sometimes necessary to distinguish between a drop-down list and a combo box. Define combo box the first time you mention it, as you would with any unfamiliar term.

Example: This button places a drop-down list or a combo box on your form. A combo box allows you to select a value from a list or enter another value that is not listed.

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. […] my post about combo boxes, I defined combo box as a user interface element that allows users to select a value from a list or […]

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