I have made a medical record application that allows someone to record data about someone, but the application also allows us to add the data of a relative. So basically you can have a tab for the main user, and a tab for a relative like the spouse and enter them at the same time, because of this, all error prompt must indicate to the user in which tab the error occurred. So for example:

The last name can only contain alphanumeric characters (tab: Robert).

The problem with the above is that it looks weird, so I am wondering if there's a better way for it. I have never used an application that indicates in which tab an error occurred, so I have no idea what format I should use for the error prompt.

  • Hey, so I keep changing the tags because programming has this guidance: "This tag should be used for questions about how to represent programming constructs in prose, such as when including programming code in your academic writing." You're not doing this. You're asking about how to write user feedback within a program, which is different.
    – Cyn
    Jun 1, 2019 at 21:44
  • Wouldn't you only see the error if you were in the tab where it occurred anyway? If so, mentioning the tab in which it occurs (or instructions for entry) seems redundant. If you are somehow conveying that there is an error somewhere else (a location that you're not currently viewing), just say there is an error in tab [whatever]. Then you can give the specifics of the error in that tab. Jun 2, 2019 at 3:05
  • Google "usability conventions for error messages", this one seems promising... uxplanet.org/how-to-write-a-perfect-error-message-da1ca65a8f36 ... in essence, I think you need more than a well-written message to make your system usable...
    – Erk
    Jun 2, 2019 at 16:40

2 Answers 2


I'd imitate the style of stack traces. Go from most generic to most specific, provide as many details as possible, and most importantly, try to suggest a solution!. A "maybe you meant..." prompt, or something. The user will appreciate it.

You can do something like:

Error: invalid data has been provided.


Inside window titled: John Doe
Inside tab named: Jane Doe (2nd tab from the left)
Inside field: Date of birth
Inserted data: May 21, 1975

Additional details: the expected format for the "Date of birth" field is YYYY-MM-DD.

I wrote "Patient's relative" under the assumption that tabs always represent relatives.

In any case, the idea is that you shouldn't give the user technical terms, but rather, you should guide them through the GUI, through what they can see on screen. "Point at the screen" using words.

A better solution would be, if possible, in-place validation. If an user inputs invalid data in a required field, prevent them from submitting the information until they've fixed it, and display something next to the input, in an eye-catching color, that details what format the data should be in, such as:

Name: Jane Doe

Date of birth: May 21, 1975 [INVALID FORMAT: this field must be in the YYYY-MM-DD format] (in red)

Finally, you should be asking the folks at the UX (User Experience) StackExchange forum, since this is more of a software development question, rather than writing.

  • Where you would put the tab name? You can basically name the tabs any way you want. In the example, it was named after the person, but it can be "tab1" instead of "Robert".
    – Sayaman
    Jun 2, 2019 at 15:26
  • @blackbird I've edited my answer. My point still stands, give users as many pointers as possible, so it's unambiguous as to where they should click. If it's possible, the simplest solution would be to focus on the field with invalid data after you display the error and explain what is wrong. I know it can be done in HTML, and I would be surprised if it couldn't be done in native GUI controls. Jun 2, 2019 at 16:39

I think the weirdness you're encountering is that you're using technical speak to convey something to the user who doesn't need to know that.

To you this is a tab. While many (most?) people who use computers are familiar with tabs, they probably won't think of their spouse or child as a tab.

So use whatever term the program uses for each person (taking care not to confuse whatever term the program uses for the primary subscriber vs additional people).

  • Subscriber
  • Family member
  • Member
  • User name

For example, in the online program for my health insurance, the central location is called the "member account" and each individual is called the "patient."

Patient Robert Jones-Hernandez: Last name can only contain alphanumeric characters.


Jones-Hernandez is not a valid last name. Please use only letters and numbers.

(Though why you would allow numbers and not hyphens is beyond me.)

Ideally, your program will give feedback before the user leaves that tab. Isn't there a submit button when adding a new patient? (Or when editing an existing patient.) Why would the user even be on a different tab when submitting changes?

But if for some reason this happens, just use the same terminology you use when getting the user to set up the different entries to begin with.

  • 2
    Yes, and if the error message comes while the user is still looking at the form where the erroneous input was entered things like red asterisks (*) by the offending text box or red borders on said text box along with an error message somewhere near the offending data is usually the norm. (Any other method actually risks the user being unable to find the error...)
    – Erk
    Jun 2, 2019 at 16:35
  • @Erk Exactly. It doesn't make a lot of sense.
    – Cyn
    Jun 2, 2019 at 16:43

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