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TIP-EXE: A Software Tool for Studying the Use and Understanding of Procedural Documents

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2 Author(s)
Ganier, F. ; Lab.-STICC, Univ. Eur. de Bretagne, Plouzane, France ; Querrec, R.

Research problem: When dealing with procedural documents, individuals sometimes encounter comprehension problems due to poor information design. Researchers studying the use and understanding of procedural documents, as well as technical writers charged with the design of these documents, or usability specialists evaluating their quality, would all benefit from tools allowing them to collect real-time data concerning user behavior in user-centered studies. With this in mind, the generic software Technical Instructions Processing-Evaluations and eXperiments Editor (TIP-EXE) was designed to facilitate the carrying out of such studies. Research questions: Does document design, and specifically the matching or mismatching of the terms employed in a user manual and on the corresponding device, affect the cognitive processes involved in the comprehension of procedural instructions? Can we use a software tool like TIP-EXE to assess the impact of document design on the use and understanding of a procedural document? Literature review: A review of the methods employed to study either the use of procedural documents or their cognitive processing, and to evaluate the quality of these documents, revealed the lack of tools for collecting relevant data. Methodology: TIP-EXE software was used to set up and run a laboratory experiment designed to collect data concerning the effect of document design on the performance of a task. The experiment was conducted with 36 participants carrying out tasks involving the programming of a digital timer under one of three conditions: “matching instructions,” “mismatching instructions,” “mismatching instructions + picture”. Based on a click-and-read method for blurred text, TIP-EXE was used to collect data on the time the users spent reading the instructions, as well as the time spent handling the timer. Results and discussion: Results show that “matching instructions” (when the te- ms employed in the user manual match the terms on the device) enhance user performance. This instructional format results in less time spent consulting the instructions and handling the device, as well as fewer errors. This research shows that TIP-EXE software can be used to study the way in which operating instructions are read, and the time spent consulting specific information contained therein, thereby revealing the effects of document design on user behavior.

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Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:55 ,  Issue: 2 )