Restructuring Textual Information for Online Retrieval

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Koved, Lawrence
Shneiderman, Ben
Two experiments were conducted to evaluate two styles of online documents. The first experiment compared paper manuals to online manuals using two different database structuring techniques - a sequential (linear) structure and a tree structure. People using the paper manuals were faster at solving problems than the people using the computer manuals. No differences were found between the linear and tree structures, or in accuracy of problem solutions. In a subjective evaluation of user preferences, the computer manuals were rated as better and more organized than the paper manuals. The second experiment compared two methods of retrieving online information that allowed the reader to specify the attributes needed to guide the information retrieval process. The first manual recorded the attributes entered by the reader via menus, and material in the manuals not relevant to the current search was pruned from the search space. The second manual did not record the menu selections, and the readers repeatedly entered the attributes several times in order to complete the task. The manual that recorded the attributes allowed the readers to work over twice as fast and was pref erred over the other manual. A theoretical foundation is presented for the underlying online documentation used in the experiments. The user's traversal through the database is presented as a graph search process, using a production system. The results of the experiments and their theoretical foundations are evaluated in terms of the impact they might have on future online document storage and retrieval systems.