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Thread: [RESOLVED] How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

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    Resolved [RESOLVED] How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    I hate double negatives because I agree with this.

    So I am fighting my boss who just asked me to create a new checkbox called "No PM". This would indicate that a customer doesn't have preventative maintenance done to their systems...when it's checked. Ugh.

    It is to be placed next to a similar checkbox called No Fixed Equipment. But that was created before my time so I have to live with it. But it being there, is consistency worth a little confusion meaning why have one checkbox being on indicating "no" and it's neighbor being on indicating "yes"?

    And I know this isn't a C# question, but I wanted to elevate it from being in chit chat or some of the other more general categories.

    Thanks.
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    Re: How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    I don't know, I guess it depends.
    For instance, I ordered some food online a couple of days ago, and under the customize order menu I could check options like "No Onions", "No Peppers", "No Croutons", "Extra Sauce".

    I guess they could have presented the menu with prechecked boxes that said "Onions", "Peppers", "Croutons" and unchecked boxes for "Extra Sauce", etc... so all the checkboxes were positive, and I would uncheck the boxes of things normally included that I didn't want.

    But the checkboxes are representing things that are optional, i.e. not standard, so if all the boxes are unchecked you know you are getting the default fare, and anything checked represents a deviation from the default.

    In the case of the restaurant options menu, being presented with a mix of boxes selected and not selected, would be confusing because once you started changing the state of the checkboxes you might not know which were standard and which were deviations from the standard. Perhaps that doesn't matter, but if someone decided they just wanted it however it came, it might be hard to remember what combination of boxes you have to check or uncheck to get back to the default selections.

    Perhaps its apples and oranges....

    I think if "No PM" is a deviation from what you would prefer, then having it checked could make it stand out as something that is deviating from the default.

    In that sense, I think it may be like the "steam" gauges in aircraft or other other situations, where the scales start at various points of the dials and sweep around the dial in various amount. The purpose of that is so that the normal operating range of the instrument is geared to be near the center top of the instrument. With a quick glance at a bank of many instrument readouts, you can see all the needles generally point up when everything is good. If you see one or more needles off to one side or the other, then that draws you attention to the gauge so you can spot a issue quickly.

    That was one of the problems with digital readouts at first. You can't just glance at a bank of many numerical values and spot that one is out of the normal range, you have to decode each number mentally and compare it mentally to what you think it should be. They have to add code to monitor the values and alert you to an issue when something goes out of a defined range. With the old steam gauges, you could often start to see a needle start a trend to move outside its nominal value before it would trigger an alarm in the newer systems.
    Last edited by passel; Aug 20th, 2019 at 11:00 AM.

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    Super Moderator Shaggy Hiker's Avatar
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    Re: How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    Quote Originally Posted by MMock View Post
    And I know this isn't a C# question, but I wanted to elevate it from being in chit chat or some of the other more general categories.
    So you put it in a largely moribund forum where few would see it? I think it is better here, in General Developer.

    This is an interesting problem, to me. We have a convoluted double (or more) negative that we often wrestle with. A fish can have it's adipose fin removed to indicate origin. This is called an Ad Clip. If the fin is there, then the fin is not clipped. If the fin is not there, then there has been an Ad Clip applied. So, No Ad Fin = Ad Clip, while Ad Fin = No Ad Clip. This trips people up all the time, but there isn't a really clear way to solve the problem.
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    Re: How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shaggy Hiker View Post
    So you put it in a largely moribund forum where few would see it?
    Moribund? That is so sad. I think I will cry.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shaggy Hiker View Post
    We have a convoluted double (or more) negative that we often wrestle with. A fish can have...
    "We"? As in people at work??? But yes, I see the confusion!

    Anyway, I think passel made a good point when s/he spoke of a deviation. But really the "deviation" is customers having Preventative Maintenance. So "PM" with it being not checked is the norm, "PM" being checked would be the exception. So I could argue and possibly win with my boss, but I don't like the juxtaposition of one checkbox saying No and the other not saying No...
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    Re: How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    the checkboxes are representing things that are optional, i.e. not standard
    That's the crux for me. I feel that checking a box indicates a deviation from the default so "No PM" makes absolute sense if them having preventative maintenance is the norm.

    Of course, "the norm" can be quite subjective and can depend on the audience. So when I'm writing marketing systems, if the system is going to be internal system (ie a CMS) I'll usually offer a "Do Not Contact" option because, when an employee is filling it out, the default is assumed to be that we will contact the customer. On the other hand, if it's a customer facing web page we'll usually have something like "check here if you're happy to be contacted" because the customer would normally feel this is something they should opt in to, not out.

    I think the approach works rather well and isn't confusing as long the label itself doesn't contain a double negative. So "No PM" isn't confusing because it's not a double negative, its a single one. If the label read "Not No PM", that would be confusing.
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    Super Moderator Shaggy Hiker's Avatar
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    Re: How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    Quote Originally Posted by FunkyDexter View Post
    So "No PM" isn't confusing because it's not a double negative, its a single one. If the label read "Not No PM", that would be confusing.
    Of course, that would be confusing. It's bad grammar. The proper phase is, "Ain't No PM".
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    Re: How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    We are using a dropdownlist. The choices are "YES (Customer has PM)" and "NO (Customer does not have PM)". This has worked for us in the past. On occasion, my boss has asked for it to be presented that way, so the user has to explicitly make the choice instead of not paying attention and just taking the default value of a checkbox.

    Thanks for the discussion!
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    Super Moderator FunkyDexter's Avatar
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    Re: [RESOLVED] How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    so the user has to explicitly make the choice
    I think that changes things slightly because that implies there is no default. In that case my preference would be the same as yours I think, phrased in the positive and unchecked by default.

    Although it does have a small issue because a checkbox inherently has a default option where a dropdown does not.
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    Re: [RESOLVED] How far will you go to avoid a double-negative?

    Yup, it has a small issue! LOL. Small I can deal with.
    There are 10 kinds of people in this world. Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

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