User Preferences -- Help Please

Subject: User Preferences -- Help Please
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- OKWAY -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 1994 13:58:07 -0600

Hi, gang,
I'm looking for some pointers or advice:
My Masters thesis will present and evaluate the results
of a survey of computer user documentation preferences,
particularly the online vs. paper question. My
employer, Computing and Information Services at
Oklahoma State University, is sponsoring the research
and very interested in the outcome.

For financial reasons, moving completely away from
paper documentation and into online documentation,
probably available over the Internet, would be a
prudent move. I think that we can effectively address
usability issues in whichever medium (or both) we
choose. My main concern, and the focus of my thesis, is
what sort of documentation our users would prefer.
Although I have found many resources addressing
usability issues, I've yet to find anything about other
studies addressing user preferences.

I realize that what people like and what they need or
can effectively use are two completely different
things, but for political reasons, knowing how much
we're going to irritate our users if we go exclusively
online would be useful. I can certainly hypothesize
what the users (faculty and high-level administration,
1700 people in all) will say, but that isn't quite good

I've been working on a literature review and have found
very little. I've looked in the obvious places--ITCC
Proceedings, Tech Comm, IEEE Transactions, Tech Comm
Quarterly, ACM CHI Proceedings, and a couple of
publications dedicated to computing in higher
education. I've also traipsed through the obvious (to
me, at least) databases: ERIC, CompEndex, PsychLit,
MLA, ABI Inform, Dissertation Abstracts, the ACM
Computing Index, etc. I got the Proceedings and Tech
Comm abstracts from and searched them. I also
know about the HCI resources on the 'Net at BGSU, but
haven't yet found a good way to search them.

Results so far:
* Useful information about conducting surveys.
* A number of resources about usability which
sometimes, tangentially, address user preferences.
* Several useful resources about online documentation
in general, and a couple comparing online and paper in
terms of quality and usability.
* Nothing directly applicable.

If any of you know of any studies addressing user
preferences in documentation, I'd really appreciate a
pointer to the source. Unpublished or under-development
projects would also be useful, as would surveys which
might be too focused or audience-specific to be
generally applicable.

If anyone has any feelings about this topic to discuss
on the list, that would be great too. I'd enjoy hearing
other people's views on the topic.

Thanks in advance for your help,
ejray -at- okway -dot- okstate -dot- edu

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