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This chapter is from the book

Time Grammar and Etiquette

You should observe a few simple rules when expressing time in the UI. You will find more techniques and violations in later chapters, but here are five immediate ones to pay attention to.

1. Singularize Singular Units

It is always good practice to write the extra few lines of code to ensure that the time units are appropriately singular when necessary. For example, "1 minutes" should be "1 minute," and "1 seconds" should be "1 second." If you need to display time units that are smaller than one, use plurals, as in "0 seconds" or "0.5 minutes." (A better expression for "0 seconds" would be with a term such as complete or done.) A way to remember when to use singular units is to remember that singulars are used for exactly one, no more and no less.

2. Zero Means Finished!

In reporting remaining time, "0 seconds" implies that the process is complete and therefore should not reflect any more ongoing process. Sometimes, another process kicks in after the first process has completed, such as the unpacking of a downloaded file. What the users see, however, is a process that appears to be perpetually almost done but never does finish. The remedy is to either inform users what new process has begun or include the time needed by the extra processes into the remaining time estimates.

3. Express Time Units Consistently

The common practice is to express time units numerically, such as "This installation will take 1 to 2 minutes." It is possible to express in words, such as "one to two minutes" but never mix the two ("one to 2 minutes"). Double-digit time units are better expressed numerically, such as "15 minutes" as opposed to verbally "fifteen minutes."

4. Between X and Y

When the preposition between is used, make sure the conjunction and is used, too, as in "This installation will taken between three and five minutes" not "This installation will taken between three to five minutes." Using to as in "This installation will take one to two minutes" is fine.

5. Avoid Ambiguous Phrases

Use of the phrases momentarily or a while might be lead to more user annoyance than not. Do not use these ambiguous terms just because a process has unpredictable completion time. Refer to Chapter 6 and consider the right class of progress indication to use. The term second in "We'll be with you in a second," is extremely overused and is not taken as literally as it reads. An informal survey showed that the median expectation of "a second" was around six seconds, whereas "a minute" and "an hour" are likely to be taken more literally. Adjectives and adverbs, such as immediately and instantly, are also ambiguous.

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