Description: Reading and Usability in Technical Communication: the role of readability and usability in technical communication. Topics include social, cultural, and cognitive theories of reading processes, navigation, print and online design. Applies readability and usability testing techniques to typical print materials as well as online documents, digital libraries or databases, multimedia, or software interfaces.

Added May 2001: Group Projects & Reports

In this unit of the course, we’ll focus on the concept and practice of usability: how it emerges from the field of readability; how it relates to the fields of technical communication, ergonomics, and human-computer interaction; and how to conduct a usability test that results in a document and recommendations that people can use.

The deliverable of the unit will be a group-designed usability test and report, due Tuesday, May 8th. Your audience will be a designer, instructor, administrator, or other responsible stakeholder involved in the design and use of an interface, tutorial, software, or other technological artifact. Some possibilities:

Thursday March 29th: Dumas & Redish: Part I sections 1, 2, and 4
Key terms: “user,” systems-centered and user-centered design; praxis

Tuesday April 3rd: Dumas & Redish: Part II sections 7-10, 12; Johnson: “Studying Users through Usability and Minimalism” (handout)
Key terms: task analysis, task scenario; techne, technique, technology

Thursday April 6th: Dumas & Redish: Part II sections 13-16
Workshop: planning a usability test and preparing a test environment
Key terms: ergonomics; techne, revisited

Tuesday April 10th: Dumas & Redish: Part III sections 18-20; Conflict in Collaborative Decision Making
Key terms: data; participant; compassion

Thursday April 12th: Dumas & Redish: Part III sections 21-22
Key terms: context; context of use

Tuesday April 17th: Muller, Michael J. and Cathleen Wharton.”Toward an HCI Research and Practice Agenda based on Human Needs and Social Responsibility”
Workshop: documentation; disclosures; report design; worksheet

Thursday April 19th: Progress memo; brief progress presentations; drafting reports

Tuesday April 24th: Usability articles: summaries & precis: submit three via the course listserv; present one to class, making connections to readability & usability concerns

Thursday April 26th: Zimmerman, Donald E., Michel Lynn Muraski, and Michael D. Slater. “Taking Usability Testing to the Field.” Technical Communication 46.4 (1999), 495-500. (handout)

Tuesday May 1st: bring at least one page of your report draft — photocopies for everyone — so that we can workshop them. We’ll also discuss presentations, letters of transmittal, and recommendation formats & conventions.

Thursday May 3rd: Presentations

Tuesday May 8th: Due: Group Usability Report & Group-Member Evaluations