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Users of interactive bibliographic retrieval systems are hampered by the problems of system complexity and heterogeneity. To alleviate these problems-especially for computer-inexperienced end users-the concept of a translating computer intermediary has been investigated. The intermediary simplifies system operation by conversing with users in an easy-to-use, common language; user requests are translated into the language of the appropriate retrieval system, and after suitable network connections have been established, sent to that system. System responses are then forwarded to the user after conversion to a more uniform format. The design principles for such an intermediary system include a modularized command/argument language augmented by considerable on-line instruction emphasizing basic functions for neophyte users and including tutorial and automated aids to search-strategy formulation. An experimental intermediary system named CONrr (connector for networked information transfer) was constructed and tested with bona fide users. Results indicate that the proposed techniques have a high potential for improving retrieval system utility, especially for inexperienced users. Analysis of the experiments also suggests that the appropriateness of different assistance techniques is dependent on context-e.g., type of application and user.