The Thrill of "Top Kill"

British Petroleum (BP), responsible for the worst oil spill in U.S. history, should be given an award. Not for their oil drilling abilities (which one could fairly say are a tad below par), but on their naming abilities.

Specifically, whoever coined the term top kill to describe their latest failed effort to plug the ruptured oil line is a genius. It beautifully and succinctly describes an incredibly complex process.

Technical communicators are often asked to name things, specifically fields and other elements in a user interface. Giving objects clear, simple and self-descriptive names is often quite a challenge.

As an example, several months ago I reviewed the interface of a file migration utility. This application migrates files of one type into another. The interface consists of just one large dialog box. The user enter various parameters, then clicks a button to start the process. The question is: what should the button label be?

Initially, this button was simply labeled Go, but that’s not very self-descriptive, is it? Also, Go only has two letters, making the button rather small in stature. The label I suggested, and which was implemented, was: Start migration. It’s not as sexy as Top Kill, but it does the job.

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