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What is a Tooltip?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

A tooltip is a small, boxed text message that pops up when a mouse cursor hovers over a toolbar icon in a software program. The tooltip is typically a one-or-two-word reminder of what the tool does. For example, in Microsoft™ Word™ running the mouse cursor over the scissors icon on the top toolbar produces the tooltip “Cut,” while passing it over the clipboard icon produces “Paste.” Tooltips are handy when a program is new because they help familiarize the user with toolbar shortcuts.

Tooltips are also utilized in graphic user interfaces (GUIs) to help explain controls. This is commonly found in gaming interfaces and in virtual music or video decks. Rolling the cursor over each control will reveal what the control does.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

Another place you might see a tooltip is on the Web. Images can have accompanying text boxes that might say “click here for a larger image” or in some cases a tooltip might give the viewer information about the image. These popup text boxes are also activated by a cursor rollover, and are often wordier than a standard tooltip.

Although tooltips can be a big help, some users find they can get in the way once they’re no longer needed. In most cases the “Preferences” or “Options” configuration menu of a software program will include a control to disable tooltips. The control can always be enabled again later if the tooltips are missed.

In the case of Windows operating systems it is necessary to edit the registry to disable tooltips. Instructions can be found with any search engine. For those who are reluctant to edit the registry, simple tweak programs can be found that will make the necessary change.

In Microsoft’s user documentation tooltips are referred to as “ScreenTips.” On Apple™ Macintosh™ computers tooltips are generated in balloons and are called “BalloonTips.”

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      Woman doing a handstand with a computer