What is the recommended wording for a generic error message

  • What would be the best wording for a generic error message?

    With generic error message I mean a message for an error that has occured but there are no details on what the error is or how to recover from it.

    It will be used exclusively as a fallback solution when it is not possible to determine the error either because the server did not sent any additional details or there is a "probable" timeout... and other similar edge cases.

    It should be aimed to minimize the amount of frustration/anger.

    I've read a few threads but none of them seems to be 100% relevant

    An unexpected error occurred...

  • JohnGB

    JohnGB Correct answer

    8 years ago

    A good error message should:

    1. Let you know what the problem is.
    2. Make you feel like there is something that you can do about it.
    3. Speak like a human, and be a consistent extension of the personality of the rest of the application.

    For generic error messages, you can't do much about the first point, but you can do something about the other two.

    Do something that lets the user know that the problem isn't being ignored. Let them take some action such as submit the logs or send an error report. Alternatively let them know that automatic action has already been taken and that your technical staff have automatically been notified that this error occurred and are working on it.

    Then in how you tell them, you should express the message in human speak and keep the tone consistent with the rest of the site (which should be appropriate for your audience). If your site is playful, use a playful error message. If it is a medical service, make it completely professional.

    So examples are:

    Oops! Something went wrong!
    Help us improve your experience by sending an error report


    The application has encountered an unknown error.
    It doesn't appear to have affected your data, but our technical staff have been automatically notified and will be looking into this with the utmost urgency.


    Damn gerbils have stopped running again! Someone has been dispatched to poke them with a sharp stick.

    The first is very good. I am not sure the second one is reassuring. ..too long too technical it speaks about data of the user brrrr i am afraid. ..and for the last one i think the "again" word is not necessary it is negative for the application and stress the use for the future. ..transparency yes but not too much....

    @pierrelebailly I'd have to say for the third one it depends on the website. For example, a site like thinkgeek.com or sparkfun.com attracts a lot of... well geeks for lack of a better word, who understand that *stuff happens*, especially in a tech world. It's also a bit humorous to picture my datacenter's power being generated by a herd of tired gerbals.

    @MDMoore313 In tjis case it is clear the sound of the message is in line with the type of user...:-)

    The latter one is funny, but is offensive to gerbils.

    These are great, I think you just have to keep in mind who your target demographic are. Corporate suites might not be as impressed with "gerbil" or even "oops" lines, but the rest of us normal people would like it. LittleBigDetails.tumblr.com tends to have good/fun examples of these types of things.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM