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I'm building a user interface for a program which connects to some external device. Among other things, the UI displays certain values being reported by the device, which in English I've grouped under the category of "parameters" (as opposed to "settings" since the user cannot change their values). The UI will be used by technicians (users) and engineers (superusers).

I've received feedback to change the use of parameter in the English user interface available to German users on the grounds that the word in German will most likely be understood as setting, meaning something I change vs. something that is just read-only.

When I look at the entry for Parameter on Wiktionary, however, I see that the term can also mean

eine Variable, deren Wert für eine bestimmte Betrachtung konstant gehalten wird

which is the meaning I was going for. Do you agree that the word Parameter will be taken to mean setting (and as such represent things that I can edit) by most German users in this context?

  • Ich verstehe die Frage nicht. Ein Parameter ist ein Wert, der für eine Operation fix gehalten wird aber grundsätzlich veränderlich ist. "Wir starteten das Experiment mit dem Parameter 7,3." Mir fehlt bei them 'more' in der Frage das 'than'. More than in the English language? – user unknown Jan 14 '16 at 2:00
  • @userunknown I think I understand what you mean, but it's not really a comparison of the prevalence of one acceptation in one language over its prevalence in another. The question is whether one specific acceptation of a word is more widespread over its other acceptations in the same language; namely, that which "setting" in English conveys in the context of user interfaces. In any case I'd welcome your input to avoid the potential ambiguity in the title. – user19407 Jan 14 '16 at 11:10
  • To avoid littering the comments here, I moved the discussion on my edit to chat. – Wrzlprmft Jan 14 '16 at 11:50
  • Who are your users? Is the interface for mathematicians or for engineers or for laypersons or possibly even for the elderly? – Roland Jan 14 '16 at 14:45
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    Without any further context I would understand "Parameter" as settings in an UI. What you have described I would call "Kontrolldaten", but you should check that with you users. – Roland Jan 15 '16 at 9:50
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In computing, both the English parameter and the German Parameter mean something that the user can set up to change the behavior of a program, e.g. command line parameters (arguments). I do not know any usage of parameter that uses it in a read-only way. This is usually meant by properties or similar words.

  • From the point of view of the device, yes, these are parameters. In this instance and from the point of view of the user, though, these are read-only. I guess that points me in the direction of the issue, namely the perspective with which these things should be named/labeled. Thanks! – user19407 Jan 13 '16 at 14:18
  • Wiktionary: "Mathematik: eine Variable, deren Wert für eine bestimmte Betrachtung konstant gehalten wird" — Just to give you an example where it's considered read-only. Besides, in some programming languages the parameter is kind of immutable from the perspective of the caller. While the method can change the value, after returning to the caller, the original value is maintained. – Em1 Jan 14 '16 at 8:29
  • @Em1 that is math not computing. – Adrian Jan 14 '16 at 9:18
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As you quoted, in technical context a "Parameter" is a variable that is constant for some time. So I don't expect external devices or your program to change it but that it can be changed by the user/superuser/configurations. For example if your program would be used to measure the force applied by an electrical motor one parameter would be the number of windings. At time X a user picks a value and does some tests (constantly changing the input power).

In casual German "Parameter" is way less easy to define and can be used for anything from technobabble to frames/conditions but since your users are technicians, we can stick to the technical meaning.

Are all the "parameters" also "measurements"? Or are they "results"? Both of these would get rid of any unwanted implications.

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The focus of the objection raised against the naming in the UI is a mismatch between a (presumed) user's expectation of applying changes and the reality of being presented a set of read-only value.

So one solution might be to emphasize the read-only aspect in the UI label. This would also benefit users irrespective of their language and cultural background. Some suggestions follow:

'Parameters (read-only)' / 'Parameters (RO)'
'Read-out' / 'Device read-out'
'Presets' / 'Preset parameters' / 'External parameters'
'Context' / 'Device context' / 'Execution context' / 'Device execution context'
'Mode' / 'Execution mode' / 'Device mode'
'External settings' / 'Device settings'

Your description suggests a variation of 'read-out' would fit best as the data you are presenting comes from an external source and would actually be strongly decoupled from the operation of the program. In particular the data would not be directly configurable anywhere in the software ( this is of course guesswork on my behalf ).

Alternative approach

It is next to impossible to design a UI appealing to every user. One way out has been to adopt a limited number UI instances any user may choose from. These instances should be sufficiently similar such that each of them should be usable by every user without (re-)training. A common dimension is familiarity with the SW ('Novice - Regular - Expert') with differences in menu detail, keyboard shortcuts, help texts, UI element naming.

If you can identify a limited number of categories wrt mathematical training / computer literacy in your user base, you could roll out UI instances with different amounts of expert jargon used - eg. 'Parameter instantiation' in your example.

Caveat

A single menu label will not justify the effort to implement this idea, let alone that SW architecture, design tools, and company policy must support it. However, it might pay off when addressing multiple user issues with the UI.

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If I understand the question correctly, the term

Konfiguration

might be fitting.

If the external device reports something, which can't be changed by the user, this would translate to:

Das Gerät meldet sich in Konfiguration xy.

Of course configurations could also be modified under certain contexts, but this is not automatically taken for granted without extra explanation. (The term umkonfigurieren is complicated enough to reflect possible obstacles.)

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Looking from a maths point-of-view a parameter is something that can be changed. For example, in bifurcation theory you study the behaviour of systems under small changes of parameters.

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    Thanks for the feedback, I didn't know that :) Although what I'm trying to get is a sense of how the word is interpreted within the German language. – user19407 Jan 13 '16 at 14:26
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    @user19407 Yes, then my example would be: "In der Bifurkationstheorie beschäftigt man sich mit dem Verhalten von Systemen unter kleinen Veränderungen von Parametern." – Martin Peters Jan 13 '16 at 14:30

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