Radio buttons vs. checkboxes: Do you know the difference?

I continue to be astonished. It happened again. I found another computer user who didn’t know why some on-line surveys’ questions have “round buttons,” and others, “square buttons” — the difference between radio buttons and checkboxes. So I’m curious… do you readers out there understand the difference? This is something I’ve taken painstaking steps to explain in The Ultimate PC Primer — a topic that many times I thought about omitting because I wondered if it was just a little too basic for even a book on basic computer concepts. But yet again, I find there are some truly intelligent people in the workforce who just don’t understand checkboxes and radio buttons.

So I’m going to take a poll, below. Feel free to forward to others. I’m genuinely interested in how many people clearly understand these interface concepts. Thanks for your participation and comments, as always.

2 Responses to Radio buttons vs. checkboxes: Do you know the difference?

  1. eksith says:

    I usually equate them to : “Check all that apply” vs “Exam”

    When you see square boxes, those are checkboxes. As in “check all that apply”. You can select more than one option.

    However, round options are like those Scantron sheets. It’s multiple choice, and you can only fill in one answer per question.

    So :
    Square = “Checkbox” and “Check all that apply”
    Round = “Option” and “Multiple choice with one answer”

    I think what’s is really happening with these people is that they think the computer world is so different,that none of their prior knowledge applies. So they sit down with a blank slate… Which is why we get to see many blank stares at the screen as well.

    They need to realise that a lot of conventions that already exist in the physical world carry over unaltered most of the time. They are just represented digitally, that’s all.

  2. Ben K says:

    Jackpot, eksith! Hence, I decided to make The Ultimate PC Primer a bridge between what is known/familiar and the unknown/daunting by using analogies and real-world anecdotes. You’ve seen it firsthand as have I… once new users can translate/relate what’s on that screen to their personal life experiences, they not only have what they need to perform tasks, but they also have a frame of reference — a way of looking at technology that makes sense for them — going forward.

    There are a number of ways to convey the radio button and checkbox concept. For the book, I tired to find something that goes back before Scantron sheets. Punch-card voting was one concept I considered, except once you’ve punched a chad, you can’t un-punch it… so I struck that idea. I ended up settling on something even simpler and more timeless.

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