I am developing a software where the user can save his work. But for some reasons the save task can fail. One of the most probable reason is the fact that his document is already open. I want to help him by showing him a message like this:

"Maybe You should close the already open file before saving a new version"

Is good to to start my sentence using maybe ? How can I say this in more concise way?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Chenmunka, Dan Bron, ScotM, Misti, Marv Mills Jul 1 '15 at 12:58

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • I don't understand why the downvote here! it is the first time I am coming here so please give me some explanations better than downvoting like this! – agstudy Jun 26 '15 at 3:08

You are on the right track, error messages should be concise and whenever possible suggest corrective action. The wording is misleading

"Maybe You should close the already open file before saving a new version"

As worded it gives the impression that the program has determined for a fact that the file is open, and suggesting politely that maybe the user should close it. If the file is not open elsewhere, and the problem is that there is insufficient disk space (for example) then as a user I would be irritated that the error message is suggesting that maybe I should close the already open file (which I know not to be the case).

What you are trying to say with "maybe" is that perhaps the file is already open (presumably by someone else or some other application), in which case it must be closed by the other program because it is an error to overwrite a file that another program has open.

This wording is clearer

Unable to save the document "/user/john/mydocument" - if the file is open by another program please close it before attempting to save again.

From a usability perspective it is best if your program makes an effort to determine the cause: not enough disk space? no write permissions?

If your program doesn't check what the problem is, then the error message should indicate the uncertainty

Unable to save the document "/user/john/mydocument" - there may not be enough disk space, or you don't have permissions to write it, or the file may be open by another program - please close it before attempting to save again.


As an English construction, there is nothing wrong with your sentence grammatically or syntactically, and sometimes it can be good to start a sentence using "maybe". Maybe in this case, though, it's not the best choice because "maybe" allows a bit of ambiguity ("Maybe it is this the open file, but just maybe it is something else.") which I suspect will confuse some users into missing the open file as the problem generating the error message, and look instead for something more obscure. In this case, I'd go for a little bit more direct approach, something like

The file you are trying to save is open. Please close the file before saving.

  • I like the direct approach! what about something like : "The file you are trying to save is open. Please Try to close it and retry."? – agstudy Jun 26 '15 at 3:12
  • Please read amdn's answer. It is not as simple, but it is good advice. If there are multiple possible reasons for the failure, identify and deal with them. And if the program is certain the problem is that the file is open elsewhere, say that. The wording you just suggested is not helpful. – Brian Hitchcock Jun 26 '15 at 9:28

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