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I am writing a manual for an application. The manual describes how to operate a piece of software. Often I write sentences like:

Press "Compute" button, then change to "Statistics" tab.

My colleague has added definite articles in front of each control's name.

Press the "Compute" button, then change to the "Statistics" tab.

I feel like it is wrong. Since neither of us is a native speaker, we are not sure whether to put or omit the definite article "the" in front of names of buttons. I could not find a rule on the web that applies to buttons and tabs.

What is the correct way to formulate such a sentence: with or without the "the"?

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    Defintely add the article. "Press X button" sounds off. Forget about software, look at sentences like "press the red button", "cut the green wire", öpen the left door", etc. Google may help to convince you. The definite article is used when you specify a specific instance of a concept, so why not use it?
    – oerkelens
    Jun 2, 2016 at 12:13
  • @oerkelens I agree with your examples. However, for a green wire, green is not its "name", its more of a characteristic. To me it's like "press the big red button". When I say "press the "PRESS-ME" button", it sounds more like "cut the "CUT-ME wire". Is the article still correct in this case? Jun 2, 2016 at 12:23
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    @PavloDyban: Yes, definitely. "Press Compute button" without an article would just be wrong. You can say "Press Compute", full stop -- but if you want "button" too, it needs an article. Jun 2, 2016 at 12:25
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    Cut the CUT-ME wire sounds fine to me. Alsom see this google result for "press the ok button
    – oerkelens
    Jun 2, 2016 at 12:27
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    @oerkelens: if you formulate your comments as an answer, I'd be glad to vote for it! Thank you for clarification! Jun 2, 2016 at 12:28

2 Answers 2

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Drop the article and drop the noun categorizer (button). In technical writing, prefer:

Press Compute, then select Statistics from the navigation bar.

Your style guide will determine the specific manifestations of the text, but leveraging markup is more effective than more words, in some cases. The verbs "press" and "select" imply that the object of those actions is of a specific type.

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  • Right, to heck with the button. :) Last time I looked, software didn't have buttons. However, keyboards have keys.
    – Lambie
    Apr 17, 2019 at 18:09
  • and mice have legs! jajaja
    – Carly
    Apr 17, 2019 at 18:16
  • @Lambie It's an old joke but I've never seen a keyboard with an "any" key either...
    – BoldBen
    Apr 18, 2019 at 6:24
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Use one of:

  • press the "Compute" button
  • press "Compute"

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