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Lists, Boxes, and Other Windows Elements Defined

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 by | Filed Under: Computer Terms

In some of my previous articles I have somewhat – um – whined about the differences between menus and lists and text boxes, not knowing for sure what each one was called. I call it like I see it; if it looks like a list, then that’s what I call it. If a menu drops down, then I call it a drop-down menu. Thus, many terms get kind of incorrectly used and then when the real definition comes up, confusion is probably imminent.

I decided the other day that I was fed up with not knowing what to call which box, list or menu ( mean, how can I tell you what something is if I don’t know what it is myself?), so I looked it – them – up. So if you’re confused as to what term means what, maybe this article will help.

#1: Correct term: Text box.

My take on it: I usually describe one of them like this: “And then another box will pop up; just type in blah blah blah…”

What it is: A box that that requires you to type text into an empty line. In the screenshot below, I had to name a New Folder and had to enter the text into the empty line. That’s a text box.

When you go to a web site and have to type in a password, you are typing in a text box. When you type something into a search engine, you are typing in a text box.

#2: Correct Term: Drop-down list.

My take on it: I always call this a drop-down menu. In my defense, I am not the only one who calls it the same way.

What it is: A drop-down list is a list that provides different options for whatever it is that you want to do. A drop-down list can be closed or open. When it is closed, it displays the current option. When it’s open, it gives you other options to choose from. When you click on an arrow (usually to the right of the list), the drop-down list gives you the other options from which you have to choose. Once you click on it, it replaces the original option.

#2: Correct Term: List box.

My take on it: As far as I am concerned, this too is a drop-down menu. I mean, these things drop down and give you options; shouldn’t they all be called the same thing? Apparently not.

What it is: A list box is a little like a drop down list (I told you that they all do the same thing) but the difference is that in a list box the options are already displayed; you don’t have to click on an arrow to open the list. Instead of clicking on an arrow to be able to see all of your options, you use a scroll bar to scroll up and down until you see the one you want. When you left-click on your chosen option, it is automatically highlighted, and the text box (see #1) automatically changes. Yes, it is a text box, because if you don’t feel like scrolling and you know what you want, you can just type it in the text box.

If you look at the screenshot below, you will see that all three items that we have covered so far are all there.

#4: Correct term: Dialog box.

My take on it: A box that pops up that tells you what something is.

What it is: A (usually small) window that gives you options for you to complete a task. For instance, if you want to save a file in Word, you go to the very top left of your screen and left-click on File. In the whatever-it-is-that-drops-down (and this time it just might be a menu, who knows), you left-click on Save and up pops a dialog box.

An example of a small dialog box (see screenshot below) simply asks you a question or states something to which you can respond to by clicking on a word completing the task or acknowledging the text in the box, by clicking on OK. (see screenshot below).

#5: Check boxes.

My take on it: Thank goodness! This is a box that I can handle!

What it is: A check box allows you to select one or more independent options at the same time. In other words, instead of getting just one option that you can choose, you have a list with checkboxes so that you can choose one or more options. You select each option by left-clicking the checkbox to put a check in it.

Okay, that’s it for now.

I hope you got something out of this. I do want to let you know that even after learning all of these terms, I cannot guarantee that I will be using the correct “lingo” in future articles, and I apologize ahead of time for that. Because – and no offense to Microsoft – they all drop down from a box. And that’s my take on it.

One more thing: You may be wondering what term you use when you describe the thing that pops up with all of these options and list boxes and drop-down lists and text boxes. (I call it a box, but you know how right I have been so far.) What is the thing called that has all of these things in it, and then you click on OK and all is right with the world? (I have outlined it in red in the screenshot below.)

Why, it’s a window, of course.

~ Lori Cline


One Response to “Lists, Boxes, and Other Windows Elements Defined”

  1. Bill Beschman says:

    Nice job, Lori, but I think you are stressing out over nothing. Even Microsoft changes names of features when they upgrade. For instance, Word 2003 used Toolbars and Word 2007 uses the Ribbon. Each contains the same ‘stuff’ (buttons or tools) but gets new names. Go figure. BTW, I just call everything a dialog box because they all offer me a way to ‘talk’ with my computer (boy, do I need a social life, or what?).

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