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After a full reading, it's obvious that the results are mixed.
But I don't see that the study was applicable anyway. Our interest, as techwriters, is to impart info in the text that is being read, and to get the reader to successfully complete the task for which they are reading the instructions.
The study had the reading content completely separated from, and irrelevant to, the test task (mounting the candle in the first iteration of the study, or coming up with the common word from a trio in the second iteration).
Actually, as I read the study, I kept wondering when they'd observe whether participants read more (faster) or less during the reading task, with the poor and the good typography, respectively. Of course, for that they would have needed either an order of magnitude more participants, or else a methodology that would allow them to compare reading speed and comprehension by same participants on successive trials... as well as a way of normalizing the content across trials for each participant - is it similar in terms of level, interest, etc., without being too similar and thus boring in the second trial.... but that's a different study.
Anyway, as I say, what I think would have been the important thing to test, to make it relevant to us, is if the reading had contained the material that was to be learned. THAT is the important learning or apprehension that must take place when we provide instructions. We don't normally get users to read a big chunk, and then present them a totally unrelated challenge.
There might be some relevance when we present pre-amble or context material ahead of instructions... but how often is the preliminary or introductory material in our Help or Guide going to take 20 minutes to read, plus an interruption at the 15-to-17-minute mark, before the actual task is presented?
If anything, the paper was weakest when the challenge to the testees was language-related as opposed to a silent open challenge to mount a candle... a physical-manipulation and spatial-awareness challenge. And last I looked, our challenges to our readers are reading-comprehension-based, first and foremost.
From: Janoff, Steven
Sent: October-24-13 3:59 PM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com; Lauren
Subject: RE: Using tables for content
It shows that good Information Design/Architecture, including good graphic design principles, can assist learning (at least I think that's what it shows based on a quick read).
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