RE: Using tables for content

Subject: RE: Using tables for content
From: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- ga -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2013 11:52:37 -0700

That's a good assessment.

Makes you wonder why there are so few studies in our field that we can rely on.

If I try to think of "landmark works" in our field or milestone studies (if you can call them that), I can only think of a few, like minimalism from John Carroll, Information Mapping from Robert Horn, maybe the development of DITA, and maybe one or two that escape me right now.

Software and computer use has changed so much in the last 20 years (tablets, etc.), that you wonder if any of the studies from the 80's and 90's would hold up.

The UX field might hold some answers but they seem concerned about other things these days. I think you're right about what our interest is.

You know, actually, I'm not sure I fully understand what our purpose is as tech writers -- which might sound odd because I've been one for so long. But is it, as you say, (a) to get the reader to successfully complete the task for which they are reading the instructions, or is it (b) to impart learning so that the reader might be able to perform subsequent similar tasks without having to consult the help, or is it (c) something else, or (d) some combination. It might be that the conflict is in this immediate goal (solve the problem at hand) versus the larger goal (educate the person). My interest has always been to educate, but of course I have to write to get them to solve the immediate problem at hand. I wonder what the value is of one versus the other. Is it *worth* trying to educate the user, or should you just "get them on their way"?

Thanks for percolating that notion. Now I have something to think about while I get the user on their way... :)

Steve

-----Original Message-----
From: On Behalf Of McLauchlan, Kevin
Sent: Sunday, October 27, 2013 5:06 PM
To: Janoff, Steven; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com; Lauren
Subject: RE: Using tables for content

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.


-----Original Message-----
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

On October 24, 2013 12:14 PM, Lauren wrote:

> This is useful but not directly relevant.
> http://affect.media.mit.edu/pdfs/05.larson-picard.pdf

This is excellent, and actually *very* relevant.

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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References:
Using tables for content: From: Sean
RE: Using tables for content: From: Janoff, Steven
Re: Using tables for content: From: Haim Roman
RE: Using tables for content: From: Paul Hanson
RE: Using tables for content: From: Janoff, Steven
Re: Using tables for content: From: Robert Lauriston
RE: Using tables for content: From: Janoff, Steven
Re: Using tables for content: From: Robert Lauriston
RE: Using tables for content: From: Janoff, Steven
Re: Using tables for content: From: Lauren
RE: Using tables for content: From: Janoff, Steven
RE: Using tables for content: From: McLauchlan, Kevin

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