When to Single Click and When to Double Click

One of the most common questions I hear, surprisingly from both beginner and experienced computer users, is when should I single click and when should I double click? This, of course, is in regards to using the buttons on a computer mouse.

Now, you would expect that the answer to this question would be relatively simple, however the developers of the most popular operating Systems (Microsoft Windows and the various Apple Mac offerings) must shoulder the blame for making it much more complicated than it should be. In fact, a lot of experts suggest that the concept of double clicking was flawed from its inception and that it’s not really required at all!

Regardless, double clicking does exist, and if we want to make use of a computer, we inevitably must use it. Therefore, listed below are 3 rules to follow that will make your clicking life a lot simpler.

Rule 1: If in doubt, click carefully

Clicking the left button once is the primary function of a mouse, therefore in the vast, vast majority of situations clicking once will produce the results you want. This is particularly true when using web browsers, where the concept of double clicking is virtually non-existent. Therefore, it is highly recommended that if you have any doubt whatsoever, always click once. On top of this, double clicking when only a single click is required, e.g. double clicking a button, hyperlink, etc, can often have undesired results such as executing the action twice. This can obviously be a big deal if you are doing something like paying a bill, and accidentally pay it twice! Besides, why waste your precious time and energy clicking twice if only one click is required?!

Rule 2: Select me once, open me twice

Any object on your computer that can be both selected and opened – primarily these include files, folders, desktop icons, and items in a list (such as email messages) – require a single click to select the object, and a double click to open the object. For example, if you click once on an icon on your Microsoft Windows desktop, the background and border color of the the object will change color to indicate that it is currently selected. This then allows you to complete various actions on the icon, e.g. delete it, move it, rename it, etc by entering further mouse and/or keyboard inputs. As we know that clicking this icon selects it, plus we know that it is somehow possible to open such an object, then double clicking will of course complete the open action for us.

Rule 3: If at first you don’t succeed, click again

This rule can essentially be used as a follow up to rule 1. Rule 1 stated that if in doubt, we should click the object once. We can then extend that rule by saying that if the first click didn’t achieve the results we were expecting (or any results at all), then we can follow up by trying a double click. In most cases, this will then give us the results we were expecting. In fact, if you follow rules 1 and 3 religiously, then rule 2 isn’t even required, e.g. if we were to click a desktop icon once, but it did not produce the results we were hoping for, i.e. it selected the object rather than opening it, then following that up with a double click would then result in it being opened!

Additions and Exceptions to the rules

There are a number of instances where the usual rules don’t apply, or where they are not completely obvious or consistent. I have listed the most common of these below:

  • Microsoft Windows quick launch bar: the set of icons directly to the right of the Start button in Windows make up the quick launch bar. Although they are icons, and although they appear on or near the desktop, their sole purpose is to be “quick”, and therefore only require a single click to open;
  • Microsoft Windows task bar: the set of icons to the far right of the windows quick launch bar also only require a single click. Why? Who knows the official reason, however neither the quick launch icons nor the task bar icons can be selected, so rule 2 can be applied to these situations;
  • Word processing and general typing: in most applications, double clicking on a word will select the whole word (in some, triple clicking will select the whole sentence);
  • Title bar: double clicking in the general area where the name of an application is displayed at the top of the window (the title bar) will toggle between a maximized (full screen) and normalized (smaller but not minimized) window when using Microsoft Windows PCs or minimize the window altogether when using Apple Macs;
  • Seniors’ Internet Help tip: if you have trouble physically clicking the mouse button quick enough to register a double click, the timing required can be adjusted through Control Panel in Microsoft Windows or through System Preferences on Apple Macs.

Do you know of any other exceptions to the rules? If so, please help out your fellow Seniors’ Internet Help readers by listing them in the comments section below.

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One Response to When to Single Click and When to Double Click

  1. john kellow says:

    Thanks for this explanation.
    There are many terms which newcomers do not understand such as -
    default, refresh, anti-virus, to name a few.
    Perhaps a glossary of terms could be included but in layman’s terms