Lecture 1: Understanding Task Orientation

Understanding Task
Guidelines for a Successful
Manual & Help System
Emphasize Problem Solving
A manual or help system should help users solve
problems in the workplace.
How can I organize this project?
Where should our company invest development time?
Where and how can I find this specific data?
How can I complete this specific task?
Provide Task-Oriented Organization
Organize a manual or help system in a way that matches
the kinds of tasks a user will perform. Follow the
sequence and not in terms of a alphabetically arranged
A word processing manual that follows –
Open a file – type in words – save the file – exit the
Encourage User Control of
Users must decide what the program can do for them. It
should not be the other way round. Users should feel in
control of the program.
The manual should show users how to make key
decisions, supply key information or determine key
program outputs.
Cross-referencing should add to more information
access in a website or manual.
Example: Specifying what a database program will
search for and identifying which data the program will
Orient Pages Semantically
Semantic information in page design means you arrange
the elements of the page meaningfully, according to
elements of the job the user needs to perform.
One best way to orient pages semantically employs
visuals and graphics to balance text in a complementary
Facilitate both routine and complex tasks
Routine tasks include repeatable tasks that are easily
represented by conventional procedures.
Complex tasks require the user to apply knowledge that
isn’t easily codified in step-by-step procedures.
The more a manual or help system can be specific in
terms of helping users with a complex task, the more it
will be valued.
Design for Users
The design of a manual or help system should be based
on users’ needs rather than from models or templates of
how a manual should be arranged or should look like.
User driven design should allow:
 Find what users need
 Understand what they find
Use what they understand appropriately.
Facilitate Communication Tasks
A manual should be designed in terms of how users
communicate with the manual or the program rather than
a narrow view of program features.
How do they help users with communication tasks?
Designers need to learn about users’ interaction with the
Encourage User Communities
Users often need encouragement to rely on other users
of the program.
A task oriented documentation encourages users to
identify and get help from others.
These days we have blogs, other virtual communities
sharing ideas about programs and processes. Often
these groups are funded by organizations marketing the
program or the component.
Support Cognitive Processing
While completing a task, users work with their own
mental models. Their approach to task completion might
be very specific. This is what is called cognitive schema.
The task oriented manual uses principles of knowledge
representation, parallelism, and analogy to convey
software features and applications to workplace tasks.
Principles of Software / Manual
The job of a manual writer consists of constructing documents that
help users:
Learn to work with programs in standard and news ways.
Keep track of the levels of user expertise.
Adapting program/component capabilities to the specific purpose
and goals of the job.
learning a program / component and the goal of applying the
program / component for a specific purpose.
Task Orientation in Computer Industry
Decreased importance of job skills – Computer
programs can perform many jobs that a person used to
perform. So the job requires less skilled people.
Abstract nature of computer work – People have
trouble seeing the link between doing by hand versus
doing by computer.
Example – Typing in word processing is not concrete,
you can’t touch it.
Increasingly isolated from other employees – Virtual
organizations are the recent trend.
Task Orientation in Computer Industry
Remotely supervised – Computer mediated user will
feel increased isolation but increased supervision.
Example – The manager can check on a project
electronically, if it is uploaded on the intranet or network.
There is no need to walk-up to the employee's desk.
Overloaded with Information – Some users resist
computers because they feel overloaded by information.
Example – That is why we often use wizards if users
can’t follow-up on an installation instruction.
The Task Oriented User
Challenged by skilled demands – Although softwares
can perform some of the skills of the skilled employees,
complex tasks calls for sophisticated professional
Computer activities require two kinds of efforts:
actions and operations.
Actions – Task that grow out of work situations that often
require communication and thought.
Operations – Include limited efforts, often defined by the
menu items of a program.
Conceptually Oriented
Abstract concepts such as data types and processing
instructions can make computer work difficult.
Technical writers have always faced the challenge of
explaining abstract and highly technical information to
novice readers.
Aware of User Communities
User groups refers to groups that meet either electronically or in
Computer support divisions in corporations have discovered an
increase in user acceptance of software when they encourage the
formation of user groups.
Most employees work in groups and as a result have to coordinate
their activities, share work in progress, and store the results.
Information represents the source of power and
Forms of Software Documentation
Tutorial Documentation – It intends to teach the basic functions
and features of a program to a user in such a way that the person
can begin applying the program to workplace tasks.
Examples – Getting started guides and print and online tutorials.
Procedural Documentation – It intends to guide the user in the
everyday use of the program, often when the user needs information
at the time of use.
Examples – User guides, help files, FAQ etc.
This consists of step by step procedure tips, suggestions, wizards,
pop-up on-screen helps etc.
Reference Documentation
This intends to supply information about the program for
advanced users.
Reference users rarely consult the tutorial or user’s
The “specific task” the user needs to accomplish is not
defined by the manual writer but by the user.
This is purely descriptive of the program itself rather than
user’s application of the program.
Example – Quick reference guide
Processes of Software / Equipment Documentation
User manuals should follow the users themselves and
not the program.
Process of task oriented documentation requires that a
user is analyzed in his/her actual work environment to
discover the texture of activities within which the manual
and program must fit.
Example: Instead of writing down the features of a
software / equipment and how they work, it is advisable
to spend time watching actual users interact with the
Fig 1.8 in the text – Describes the usability process:
Planning Stages, Development stages, Evaluation
Practice Group Exercise
Practice Problem Solving # 3 from Chapter

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