What resource do you use to research usage of computer terms, such as "checkbox" versus "check box"?


4 Answers 4


If you are trying to get a sense of the relative frequency over time of two or more alternative spellings, you may be interested in the Google Ngram tool, which reports on the frequency, year-by-year, of specified search terms in the Google Books database. Here, for example, is the Ngram chart for "check box" (blue line) versus "checkbox" (red line) for the period 1975–2005:

The Ngram tool uses the year of publication specified on the title page of each book included in the search in gathering data for the frequency plot. You can also see examples of the search terms in situ by clicking on of the year intervals listed beneath the Ngram graph here.

  • This is a good answer, +1. I have only one caveat: OP has mentioned under Andrew Breza’s answer that he’s looking to see if these terms “are changing”. My understanding — very possibly wrong — is that Google Books is no longer cataloging new works. And since these terms are extremely modern and given the vivacity and tulmult in the IT world, continue to change now and into at least the near future, Google Books might not help him learn what he wants to know. But again I might be wrong about Google Books.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 28, 2019 at 23:58
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    This may be a good answer if you're using terms that were possibly computer-related in the past (though mostly related to paper forms, in case of check boxes, I think). Using data from the past decade and earlier to make decisions now seems nonsensical to me.
    – JJJ
    Aug 29, 2019 at 0:06
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    Re NGrams, the corpus was updated, or rather a new corpus was created that also included texts up to 2012, -but- you have to specify that corpus explicitly (the default is still 2008). And yes that is not quite up to 2019, as of this question.
    – Mitch
    Aug 29, 2019 at 2:37
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    A caveat about corpus searches in general. You have to make sure that both your forms (in a two term search, if for comparison) are counting everything with the same meaning or really the same context. 'check box' will also capture things that 'checkbox' wouldn't fit in, say "... I can pay by check. Box it all up and send it to my address". An unlikely sentence, but people say all sorts of things you wouldn't expect that can get drawn into a search.
    – Mitch
    Aug 29, 2019 at 2:39
  • @Mitch's point is basically... well... on point. The phrase "check box" is just a pair of very, very common words in close proximity, and it seems like it would be difficult to really say how many of the hits for "check box" are genuinely referring to checkbox. (There's also the spectre of "check-box" looming, thus far unaddressed. Hyphenated it's a much more reliable match, but how do you differentiate?)
    – FeRD
    Sep 2, 2019 at 1:55

There are a few starting points if you're making a decision about the usage of computer terms.

The Microsoft Writing Style Guide (formerly the Microsoft Manual of Style), which they pitch to people who write about computer technology, is a comprehensive guide for computer terminology. They have articles like this that provide guidance for check box:

Use check box, not box or checkbox, to refer to a check box in UI.

The IBM Style Guide, while older, has a lot of recommendations on specific usage, and approves of the form check box.

The A11Y Style Guide provides guidance on web design. While it is more focused on design, it models usage: it has an entire section on forms, where it refers to checkboxes.

The Google Developer Documentation Style Guide provides comprehensive guidance on usage, including a word list that prescribes checkbox, not check box.

The Apple Style Guide may also be useful, but I've never used it.

Other companies may also have their own style guides, whether they are internal or shared for use with the public. As you can see, even with a simple example like check box / checkbox, they disagree on usage. If you are writing for a small company or a venue that lacks its own style guide, my advice is to compare results, decide on your own preferred usage, and apply that usage consistently in your own documentation.

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    The original Apple Style Guide (I forget what it was called) must have been the first and was a truly wonderful document — a must for anyone interested learning about interface design.
    – David
    Sep 7, 2019 at 12:21

Sometimes you can learn about the usage of technical terms by Googling them. For example, you'll find that "checkbox" has more hits than "check box." Since you're asking for a specific resource, I suggest Webopedia, which has a definition for check box (two words).

  • Thanks for the response, and I realize I should have been a bit more specific. What I'd like to know as a technical editor is if usage is changing. I can see that "check box" as 2 words seemed to have more hits earlier and usage seems to be shifting to "checkbox" as one word. But those results are biased because many are discussing code, such as HTML, Java, JavaScript, and others. Even in Java tutorials, for example, Oracle uses "check box" (two words) to describe how to use the JCheckBox (one word) class. I'd like to find the non-code uses of the term. Any ideas for that?
    – user359040
    Aug 28, 2019 at 20:28

You might want to consider a dictionary that's carefully curated and recent. The more recent it is the more likely newer terms will be listed and updated usage is covered. Careful curation is necessary because terms may have different meanings both outside the field of computer science (e.g. kilo meaning 1000 vs 1024) and even different definitions within computer science (e.g. the word glitch).

I'd suggest Wikipedia as a source that's recent. It's not carefully curated per se but since everyone can add to it, it's very likely that a term you're looking for is mentioned, possibly in different contexts. In addition, it's a good start as it probably links to other sources (depending on what you're searching for those may be original papers that coined a phrase or came up with some new word).

A more curated reference is a dictionary from an established publisher. For computer science, I found A Dictionary of Computer Science (7 ed.) published by Oxford University Press. It's fairly recent with this (latest?) version dating from 2016.

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