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An international peer-reviewed journal

WHAM! POW! Comics as User Assistance

Erika Noll Webb, Gayathri Balasubramanian, Ultan ỎBroin, and Jayson M. Webb

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 7, Issue 3, May 2012, pp. 105 - 117

Article Contents

The Studies

In the first of two studies presented here, participants were presented information about a new feature in a software application—both in comic format and in the more traditional format of a PowerPoint presentation. Based on the information in these materials, participants were asked to perform several tasks in a functional prototype of a Human Capital Management software application. Following the task performance, these participants were asked to evaluate the materials on two usability rating scales.

The second study evaluated the effectiveness of two types of comics and a PowerPoint presentation in explaining conceptual information about the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) to an audience of technical writers.

User Assistance and Enterprise Applications

Oracle Corporation offers enterprise applications (CRM and ERP) worldwide. User assistance (help, documentation, and multimedia demonstrations) delivered with the software explains concepts and procedural tasks to users, as well as offering examples of best use. Providing more effective user assistance to increase user productivity, reduce downtime, and increase adoption rates (Webb, Matsil, & Sauro, 2011) provided the impetus for the first part of this research.

Darwin Information Typing Architecture

DITA is an OASIS standard, XML-based data model for authoring and publishing. The architecture emphasizes the importance of reuse of content and working at the level of discrete “standalone” topics. Topics can be easily recombined into different deliverables by use of maps. Formatting of text is applied by different rendering or transformation technologies. Other XML-based approaches focus on longer, book-style chapters (such as the SGML-derived DocBook) or styling and formatting (such as commonly done with Microsoft Word's style menu or toolbar options).

Oracle uses DITA ( Broin & Spradley, 2009) for the authoring of help content delivered with its enterprise applications software. The need to educate and train increasing numbers of technical writers and usability professionals worldwide about DITA provided the impetus for the second part of this research.


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