Re: Indexing/Usability Q

Subject: Re: Indexing/Usability Q
From: Mark Magennis <markmagennis -at- YAHOO -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 09:42:15 -0700

---Brenda Ruetschi <Bruetschi -at- ALPHA88 -dot- COM> wrote:
> If we want to test the words that a user will be using to
look up a
> topic in an index, for example assign, associate, relate, link, how
do we
> word the question in the usability test?

Good question. It sounds like (I could be wrong) you are planning to
ask a user which words they would use to look up each of your help
topics. How do you ask them without suggesting words to them?
Obviously this would invalidate the experiment.

However, if this is what you are planning I think it wold be the wrong
approach. One thing you have to do is to define "a topic". When you
think about it, the user won't be looking for any of your written
topics. They will be looking for their own imagined (or partially
imagined) topic, and hopefully one or more of the topics you have
written will fit the bill. Therefore, your task will be to have the
user propose topics that they would want to locate using the index,
then ask them to propose index entries to look up. This is a far more
involved task but is more realistic and gets around the problem of
giving them a text description of a topic.

A rough test outline might be:

1. User thinks up a number of topics (concepts, tasks) that they might
typically want to find out about.

2. User provides an expected index entry for each topic.

3. Test - Are the entries in the index? Do they link to appropriate
topic(s)? If an expected index entry is missing, can the user find the
topic they want by thinking up alternative index entries?

This approach involves 2 decisions - how do you get users to think up
realistic topics (they're not realistic unless users think them up),
and how many topics are enough for a decent evaluation?

No matter how many topics you use, this is unlikely to be an
exhaustive test of the index, but it will give some indication of
whether it is seriously inadequate and in what ways (too few index
terms, poor topic associations).

I've been planning to take this approach myself. Do you think this is


Mark Magennis | Information Developer
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Leopardstown Office Park | Tel: +353 (0)1 295 2549
Foxrock, Dublin 18 | Fax: +353 (0)1 295 2554
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