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I am currently designing a web application, and have got into a bit of an argument with the boss over the correct language to use on a search form.

Below is the form in question:

enter image description here

The options here will filter the results, so for example if nothing is selected from the Status dropdown, all jobs will be shown regardless of status, whereas if a status is selected, only jobs with that specific status will be displayed. A job may only have one status, and be assigned to one client.

The wording of the text for the default Client & Status texts are causing some confusion. At present they are set to "All Clients" and "All Statuses", however it is being argued that this should read "Any Client" or "Any Status".

Which would be the correct text to show in this situation, and what is the difference between "any" and "all"?

  • Why make work for yourself? In this context, practically every other developer just uses the single word All in both places. – FumbleFingers Dec 12 '13 at 14:32
  • To make the question more generally relevant, you might consider changing the heading to "What is the difference between "any" and "all"?"? – ChristopherE Dec 12 '13 at 15:59
  • The correct text to show is whatever the boss says is correct. Later, if/when the users complain, refer them to him to argue the semantics and wait for him to tell you to change it. :-) – Hellion Dec 12 '13 at 18:03
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In your specific case, "all" is preferable, because it accurately describes the search-pool. "I want to search," the user thinks, "the list of all the clients." I do not think your menu should offer the option to search for "any candidate," since the search should return all the people matching the search criterion, not just some arbitrary one.

More generally, "any," "every," and "all" are sometimes interchangeable, but there are cases where they have different meanings. To illustrate this, they must be translated non-synonymously in some cases symbolic logic, revealing different English meanings. For instance, where “any” and “all” quantify over people:

Same meanings:

  • Any people taller than Joe are taller than Mick. (∀x)(Txj ⊃ Txm)
  • All people taller than Joe are taller than Mick. (∀x)(Txj ⊃ Txm)

Different meanings:

  • If any people are taller than Joe, Paul is. (∃x)Txj ⊃ Tpj
  • If all people are taller than Joe, Paul is. (∀x)Txj ⊃ Tpj

Different meanings:

  • Joe isn’t taller than all of the people. ∼(∀x)Tjx
  • Joe isn’t taller than any of the people. ∼(∃x)Tjx

There is a pattern here. "All" and "any" can be used to express the same quantities when the scope of their quantification is a whole sentence. However, they have different meanings when they quantify over part of a sentence.

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"Any" means one/some of a thing/number of things, no matter how much, of a particular class or defined group. Your group is clients (presumable all of them). So any can be from one to all of the clients.

All the clients means just that - every one.

If you drop down from all clients and can pick from a subset of them (and this applies as well to statuses), I would say it is labelled correctly right now.

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    This is another very intuitive angle from which to view this problem. The descriptor becomes the full list of choices, describing the drop box itself. This is also a more object oriented approach if reconstituting similar options elsewhere in the UI is a concern. – shermy Dec 12 '13 at 17:04
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Purely from a logic perspective, "any" is exclusive and corresponds to the OR function or a mathematical union of values. "All" is inclusive and corresponds to the AND function or a mathematical intersection of values. While this semantic distinction may not have an impact on how you retrieve results ( I am assuming that you will show results that correspond to All Clients and All Statuses even if the wording is "Any"), I would choose "Any".

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I have always used "all" by popular demand through systems analysis and client consultation.

It has to do, I believe, with the implicit sentence asked behind the form, and system users expect.

For better or worse, "any" comes to have connotations of "any one of". If you're shown a hand of cards for a magician's trick and the magician says 'pick any card', you pick one.

If you 'search all job ids, all clients' etc, there is an understanding you may retrieve more than one result. I have struggled to find many examples of 'any' in this instance.

I certainly see where you are coming from. But it seems the "implicit sentence" most people reading a search form is "Search for items that within these criteria" rather than "Search for items that match these criteria". One would say "this criteria may match any", but one would, in the earlier form, say "this criteria lies within all".

All seems to be the mode preference.

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If speaking of a single criterion, I would naturally use the word "all", as in:

"I would like a list of all clients please."

However, if I were speaking of multiple criteria, I'd probably naturally use the word "any", as in:

"I would like a list of jobs in any status from client XYZ" or
"I would like a list of jobs in XYZ status from any client"

I don't think either use is wrong. As it doesn't change the funcationality of the site, I'd probably leave it up to the users of your system. Which makes the most sense/causes the least confusion for your readers?

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