A framework for the design of usable electronic text
thesisposted on 21.01.2016, 16:33 by Andrew P. Dillon
This thesis examines the human issues underlying the design and usability of electronic text systems. In so doing it develops a framework for the conceptualisation of these issues that aims to guide designers of electronic texts in their attempts to produce usable systems. The thesis commences with a review of the traditional human factors literature on electronic text according to three basic themes: its concern with perceptual, manipulatory and structural issues. From this examination it is concluded that shortcomings in translating this work into design result from the adoption of overly narrow uni-disciplinary views of reading taken from cognitive psychology and information science which are inappropriate to serve the needs of electronic text designers. In an attempt to provide a more relevant description of the reading process a series of studies examining readers and their views as well as uses of texts is reported. In the first, a repertory grid based investigation revealed that all texts can be described in reader-relvant terms according to three criteria: why a text is read, what a text contains and how it is read. These criteria then form the basis of two investigations of reader-text interaction using academic journals and user manuals. The results of these studies highlighted the need to consider readers' models of a document's structure in discussing text usability. Subsequent experimental work on readers' models of academic articles demonstrated not only that such models are important aspects of reader-text interaction but that data of this form could usefully be employed in the design of an electronic text system. The proposed framework provides a broad, qualitative model of the important issues for designers to consider when developing a product It consists of four interactive elements that focus attention on aspects of reading that have been identified as central to usability. Simple tests of the utility and validity of the framework are reported and it is shown that the framework both supports reasoned analysis and subsequent prediction of reader behaviour as well as providing a parsimonious account of their verbal utterances while reading. The thesis concludes with an analysis of the likely uses of such a framework and the potential for electronic text systems in an increasingly information-hungry world.