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Chapter / Background

Research

Data gathering

  1. Credite experto
  2. Software analysis
  3. Requests analysis
  4. User survey

Chapters

  1. Background
  2. Literature review
  3. Data collection & measurement
  4. Modelling & Testing
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. Appendices & Bibliography

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1. Background, scope, and methodology

This research investigates some aspects of the usability of editing software for structured documents, and suggests some possible changes to the interfaces to improve acceptance by writers and editors.

In section 1.1 we examine the background to the tasks involved in dealing with structured documents. We also identify the technologies covered by the types of software used. While much of this would be familiar to experts in the field of markup and document engineering, we have identified that the assumption of this foreknowledge on the part of the user is one of the principal inhibitors to the more widespread adoption of the technologies.

Section 1.2 explains the scope of the investigation, the populations that we considered, and the software examined. Not everything that writers write or editors edit falls within the definition of a ‘structured document’ (see section 1.1.5 on page 31). While the quantity of structured documents written on a computer could possibly be measured or estimated (we have not attempted to do so), the quantity of documents with no formal structure, or not requiring one, is probably inestimable. Similarly, the number of writers and editors engaged on structured writing is large but finite (again, unestimated); whereas every literate person with access to a computer is potentially a writer or editor of documents of some description. Lastly, while it is possible to write text documents with a very large range of programs, it is only practicable with a small number, and an even smaller number when the scope is restricted to those designed for structured documents.

The methodology we have adopted is discussed in section 1.3. The present investigation is closely related to other areas of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) in which there has been extensive research into user interfaces, both in general and in specific classes of applications. However, with a few exceptions which we examine in Chapter 2, there appear to be no specific methodological adaptations applicable to research on the interfaces for structured documents.

Chapter 2 examines the published work on the psychology of computer use. There is an extensive literature on the usability of computer interfaces, which substantially informs the overall interaction design of modern programs, including those dealing with structured documents. By contrast, there is relatively little relating specifically to the demands of structured document editing, which appears only rarely to have been formally investigated in any depth to date. Against this must be set the substantial body of research into general text editing and the GOMS methodologies. Some research from other disciplines is also examined, particularly from computing science, Humanities computing, and the field of publishing, all of which have some close points of contact with the immediate topic.

In Chapter 3 we investigate the users’ perceptions of the tasks, and the facilities offered by editing software. Four enquiries were made:

  1. a survey of expert practitioners in the field;
  2. an analysis of the software and its features;
  3. an analysis of requests for help and advice posted to specialist discussion forums;
  4. a survey of authors and editors of structured documents.

Perceptions were measured both quantitatively and qualitatively, based on expectation (as expressed in the requests for help) and on behaviour (as expressed in the final survey).

Chapter 4 compares these expectations and behaviours with the facilities offered by the editing software analysed in the second enquiry above. This leads to the construction of a model of the differences, from which we derive a set of changes to the interface to address the disparities between expectation, behaviour, and software performance. A paper prototype of these changes was tested where it was possible to implement them within the abilities of known software, and the results of testing are reported.

In Chapter 5 we examine the results, and in Chapter 6 we draw some conclusions and make suggestions for further work.

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This page was last modified on November 02, 2013, at 08:51 PM