Eliciting User Analogies to Improve Documentation

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Analogies, Accuracy, Language barrier

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An invisible language barrier exists between users and creators of technology. This mental model disparity has been described as the “gulf of evaluation and the gulf of execution” (Norman, 1988). Typically, when such common ground is lacking, analogies are used. However, it is unclear whether professional writers and system designers have the naïve knowledge necessary to create analogies that users find helpful. Some researchers claim that through discovery learning, users are able to create analogies (Shrager and Klahr, 1985). It is hypothesized that these analogies offer clues to appropriate mental models and to indicate skills needed to aid other new users. Furthermore, analogies elicited from novice users, should produce successful analogies for other users. In the present study, participants receiving analogies created by other users reported an increased level of confidence and more accurate expectations of the results of their actions with a single exposure to the system. This study found the discovery learning method elicited analogies which users found benefit from by reporting an increase of confidence, increase of motivation and increased accuracy in their expectations as the result of their actions thereby narrowing the “gulf of evaluation and the gulf of execution” (Norman, 1988).

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Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society 49th Annual Meeting, v. 49, issue 21, p. 1821-1825