'Click Cancel to Proceed': Pop-Up Dialog Rhetoric

‘Click Cancel to Proceed’: Pop-Up Dialog Rhetoric

A little while ago, I got an e-mail from a Ph.D. student working on a research project. Would I mind filling out an online form that asked questions about leadership and religion? The form says I can leave certain questions blank. So I do. After I’ve filled out about 20 items, I realize there’s one multiple choice question that doesn’t apply to me. I’ve already ticked a radio button, but there’s no way to untick it, and no option for “does not apply to me”. Oh, well… I pick an answer at random, since I’m too lazy to hit “Clear” and punch in all the data again just to correct this one item.

When I push “submit”, I get the follwing dialog box:

On too many occasions, I’ve seen a form go blank because I’ve accidentally hit “Cancel,” so I take a lot of time reading this before I choose what to do.

Obviously the researcher wants good data, and gaps in the data are bad… so, while I first read a policy statement that indicated everything I was doing was voluntary and I could stop at any time, the rhetoric of this particular interface which privileges the researcher’s perspective, thus working directly against the goals of the document that stresses that my contribution is voluntary. This interface pressures a volunteer to conform, since it presents going back to supply the “missing” data is the only “OK” option. By contrast, my decision to withhold information is associated with the “Cancel” button — not exactly my favorite button in the world, since I click it only when I’m frustrated and giving up. While it’s a stretch to suggest that I’ve been harmed by the psychological manipulation this interface attempts, I see the interface working against the ethical goals of the “your rights as a volunteer” statement I had to read through before I started the survey.

To top it all off, when I finally went ahead and hit “Cancel,” I got a “server not found” message.

Not only did this survey waste my time, and the time of who knows how many other people who took it, it also wasted the time of the researcher — who’s going to have to get another list of potential survey respondents.

Oh, well… it gave me something to blog about.