I'm writing a conference paper in English.

My Japanese colleague told me that I should use "○" for YES and "x" for NO in my paper, but I think the right symbols should be "✓" for YES and "x" for NO. Which one is correct?

Besides, my colleague also said when you want to express "sometimes YES, sometimes NO" in a paper, you should use "△". Can you native speakers understand this "△"?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 9 '17 at 17:15
  • Oh, so that's what those triangles mean. I have seen them before in technical documentation from Japan. No, native English speakers will not in general understand they mean. – dangph Jul 10 '17 at 9:26
up vote 104 down vote accepted

X for No and O for Yes are clearly understood by everyone in Japan, but not in English. In fact, in my first Japanese class in the US, when the teacher used these symbols, I thought that X meant Yes because "X marks the spot."

In my own Japanese to English translation, for tables, I usually spell out "Yes" and "No." For the circle, triangle, and X (i.e., three-level symbols), you can use, for example, A, B, C or Excellent, Good, Poor, or any other easy shorthand.

If you do use the Japanese-style symbols, you should use a key at the table to explain the symbols because they are not readily understood by English speakers.

Using a checkmark in a table is fine for Yes. In that case, however, there is no need for an X for No because the absence of the checkmark implies No. You can also use a solid dot symbol for Yes (opposite of the Japanese meaning), and again the absence of the dot would imply No.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 7 '17 at 4:20

I am a native English speaker, with what I hope is an above average education. I can think of no good reason, especially for a conference paper, to use anything other than "Yes" and "No" when what you mean is "Yes" or "No".

  • Several up votes and no comments usually means it's the correct answer for the rest of us. – Mazura Jul 6 '17 at 3:32
  • @Mazura This is really different from my experience with e.g. UNIX SE, where answers which dismiss the premises of the question are routinely deleted as NAA. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 6 '17 at 7:32
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    If Unix.SE is doing that, then that is really foolish of them and an extreme abuse of the purpose of "Not An Answer" flags. Sometimes, the best answer to a question really is, "Don't do it like that; do it like this instead." And even if you disagree with that answer, it doesn't mean it is not an answer. It's only "not an answer" if it has nothing whatsoever to do with the question. (Like if mickeyf had posted some other tips on how to present papers at a conference.) @Dmitry – Cody Gray Jul 6 '17 at 10:28
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    In formal English this is clearly correct. Meanwhile, the use of and or Y and N in a form or a table is unlikely to be seen as objectionable or excessively informal, and may save space in such contexts – Henry Jul 7 '17 at 20:54
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    @DmitryGrigoryev link or didn't happened. – Braiam Jul 9 '17 at 20:24

I'd also consider using Y for Yes and N for No. I think this is clear for everyone speaking English. It may look worse in the manner of design but will be understood by all.

and (or V and X if you stick to ASCII) seem to be understood correctly when all cases are filled. Reinforcing with colors (green and red respectively) helps to avoid confusion as well, when using colors is an option (example).

Also check out the "No" symbol (ironically, it is somewhat close to Japanese "Yes" symbol). Using and symbols avoids the confusion with being interpreted as "marking the spot", meaning "yes".

IMO the most unambiguous symbol for "sometimes yes, sometimes no" would be a ?. If you go for + and -, then using ± as "sometimes yes, sometimes no" is an option as well. I have never seen a used in that sense in English, so I'd avoid it at all costs.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 9 '17 at 17:16

I'm writing a conference paper in English... My Japanese colleague told me that I should use "○" for YES and "x" for NO in my paper, but I think the right symbols should be "✓" for YES and "x" for NO. Which one is correct?

Ok, most of the answers here are spot on. You're more correct, but Y and N are much clearer in general. Two things people don't seem to have mentioned so far:

Where is the conference?

All of the answers so far assume an international or anglophone venue with many native speakers. In that case, you should explain to your Japanese colleague that (almost?) no other culture uses those symbols in that way. As near as China, people have only seen it in Japanese contexts if at all and they should never be used in international settings. (You could include a guide, but why bother? Just use something more commonly understood.)

But if the conference is in Japan and you're submitting a paper that will mostly be read by Japanese speakers of English, he is right and you should adopt the convention that is most easily understood by them. △ is a terrible symbol for the sense being used but, if your readers already grok it and ? would cause more difficulty, then go ahead and use it.

How are you using these symbols?

Some people are telling you to use checks or boxes, but those are only appropriate for forms and tables within your paper.

In running text, you should just use "yes(es)" and "no(es)" in discussion of anything other than votes, which sometimes get the archaic "yea(s)" and "nay(s)". If you're discussing a yes response as a response, you might set it off with all caps: "Respondent 17 selected YES when asked if s/he was an above-average driver, despite reporting elsewhere that s/he can no longer purchase insurance due to repeated collisions involving guard rails, other cars, and small buildings." You might replace that YES with a 'yes' or a yes or a yes or a Y; you might describe R17 as "checking yes"; but you wouldn't just say s/he "selected ✓" or "○".

Consider using a checkbox for yes and empty box for no.

These are Unicode characters U+2611 and U+2610 respectively.



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    used on its own (without an nearby) has the same issue as used on its own without . – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 5 '17 at 16:14
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    ☐ used on its own (without an ☑ nearby) is also very similar to the "unrecognized character" glyph in many fonts, so people may assume it's just an encoding error. – Dewi Morgan Jul 5 '17 at 18:54

If the questions/options are in English then, chances are, they know Y/N. There is also the power switch 1/0 which is now widely understood (but not so much in the US) where binary 1 means on and binary 0 means off. Why commit to check-boxs? Most people understand multi-choice circles; or ticks / X / anything above an underscore. Maybe draw a circle round the smiley or the un-smiley.

It is also possible to use different symbols in different contexts. For example the question "do you drink alcohol?" may have a cocktail glass with a straw for 'Yes'. For 'No' use the same symbol overprinted with a big red X. The same method applies for 'do you have children' or 'own a car'. One advantage of smilies is that you can easily insert options three and four.

This has drifted away from English. Sorry ... I have spent a fair portion of my life designing user interfaces. It frustrates me that some shops have a big, shiny, expensive handle on both sides of a door. A handle means pull and a plate means push.

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