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I am writing for an Online Help system and one of the of the requirements is that we try to phrase the headings of topics as tasks when possible and appropriate (e.g. "How to print test pages" instead of naming the topic "Test pages"). A lot of subjects will include a topic on basic settings - which made me wonder: what does the user DO with settings, which verb would be preferable?

To me, the candidates seem to be:

  • "Adjust settings": This has the most Google hits and surely sounds best to me, but that is mainly based on my gut feeling which might not be the most trustworthy source. This is not used in our Online Help so far.
  • "Make settings": This is used in our Online Help, but does not sound quite right to me (maybe because I think about the German "machen", which would not be a good fit). This has a lot of hits on Google, but on second sight, there are a lot of results from the help systems of non-american/non-english companies, which at least makes me a bit wary. Other results have "make" in them, but in a slightly different context (e.g. there's "making settings persistent in GIMP"). But again, my main reason against "make" is my gut feeling.
  • "Specify settings": This is also used in our Online Help and to me, it does not sound inherently wrong. Just not right for basic settings. This seems more fitting regarding settings that are, well, more specific. Third case of gut feeling right here.

So, native speakers out there, what would you prefer? Adjust, make, specify settings, or something else I haven't thought of?

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  • A bit tautological, perhaps, but you could just set your settings. Oct 4, 2018 at 14:30
  • Yes, you are right :) But, because of it being a bit tautological, to me the heading "How to set the basic settings" would sound a bit like "hey, this guy really wanted to make this heading task-oriented". I guess it would probably be better to just go with "Basic settings" at this point.
    – awinnefeld
    Oct 4, 2018 at 14:37
  • So just say How to set the basic configuration. But it is relevant that you're apparently not including what some might call Advanced Settings? Oct 4, 2018 at 14:44
  • Well, it's not really relevant to the question I guess - it's just the "Basic Settings" part that sounded not quite right to me in combination with "specify", which we have in our help in the context of some advanced/specialised settings. Your solution sounds good - but I think I'll have to stay with "settings" instead of "configuration" because our UI only speaks of "settings". Hmm.
    – awinnefeld
    Oct 4, 2018 at 14:57
  • To me, adjust settings is clearly the best. Make settings sounds horribly wrong (it sounds like create settings), and specify settings is just okay. Oct 4, 2018 at 16:29

2 Answers 2

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"Specify settings" - This is OK if the settings don't exist before they are "set".

"Make settings" - Make is not quite a substitute for do - here, make would mean create. Only say this if you literally mean to create a new thing requiring a setting, or if "create new" makes sense in the context.

"Adjust settings" - This is usually OK; there is an arguable implication that you're saying shouldn't have to make major changes.

The action you usually take with settings is change, and a good "noun" form of to change is either change itself or modification.

  • "Do you want to change setting X?"
  • "Would you like to save changes to settings?"
  • "Change settings".
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Settings is a vague concept that will be different for each user and probably change over time while using the tool. It is the concept of having options across multiple parameters. It is not clear if you are referring to the combination of options that have been selected for the task, or the specific location where options are made.

Refer to the actual name of the tool:

User Preferences, Options Panel

Or the task:

Printing, Change the ink color, Add a profile photo

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