8 de Mayo de 2005

Linguistics and web usability

Martín del Pozo, María Angeles

Resumen: From the early history of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) experts have acknowledged that Linguistics is one of the disciplines contributing to it. If one of the goals of HCI is to produce usable systems, then linguistics has also a role to play in web interface and web usability though this may not have been officially acknowledged yet.

From the early history of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) experts have acknowledged that Linguistics is one of the disciplines contributing to it. If one of the goals of HCI is to produce usable systems, then linguistics has also a role to play in web interface and web usability though this may not have been officially acknowledged yet.

Up to now, references to language and text in usability guidelines come from HCI practitioners and designers. Linguists have not yet embarked on the project to study from their perspective the features of what could be labelled "usable language".

This paper has a double purpose:

  1. To summarise the references to language issues in usability literature
  2. To propose several potential areas for further study within this domain

References to language issues in web usability literature

a) In most cases usability literature refers briefly to language within guidelines and checklists and it does so in a prescriptive tone. These prescriptions and tips can be classified under 5 main headings depending on the aspect they deal with:

  1. References to text typography
  2. References to text layout
  3. References to text organisation
  4. References to stylistic and discourse aspects
  5. References to multilingualism and translation

b) There is an outbreak of literature focused on web writing. It ranges from monographs to brief articles. All this points that writing for the web is different and therefore needs to be learnt.

Proposed areas for further study

  • A detailed description and analysis of each one of the five areas listed above and the specific references under each one of the headings, that is, a precise report on current references to language.
  • Heading 4 "References to stylistic and discourse aspects" presents itself as the broadest of the areas and no doubt the most specifically and exclusively related to language issues: orthography, lexis, grammar, discourse and style.
  • Regarding the increasing literature on web writing, who is writing it? Designers, linguists, users? The recommendations of this literature could be evaluated in usability terms.
  • What is the role of language in each one of the four main aspects of usability: effectiveness, learnability, flexibility and attitude? In other words: How should language be to make a site effective, learnable, flexible and have a friendly and positive attitude?
  • Do these prescriptions and recommendations come from good practice? That is to say: are the prescriptions based on the description of good practice? Or, the opposite, are they real prescriptions based on ideal models? In either case, it could be interesting to provide a sample corpus of quality usable language. These language samples (either real or created) could serve as models for good practice.
  • Usability and Internet linguistics

Crystal (2001) makes a pioneer attempt to describe the linguistic properties of the Internet. He differentiates 4 Internet situations (e-mail, chat groups, the web and virtual worlds) and gives the name "Netspeak" to the linguistic variety of these situations. The distinctive features of Netspeak are classified in five main types following a stylistic approach: graphic, orthographic, lexical, grammatical and discourse aspects

Crystal's model and theoretical reflections could be very useful to provide a similar description of the distinctive features of "usable language". These features would reciprocally enrich Internet Linguistics.

  • The language of usability

Any new area of knowledge demands new language to describe it. Web design and design in general are either creating new terms or giving a new meaning to already existing ones. But in both cases a new language for a specialised purpose (LSP) is emerging. LSP research does not only benefit linguists. It can also benefit practitioners. HCI experts themselves are pointing at the need for a design language (Rogers; 2000). It will aid conceptual organisation, standardisation and consistency of terms and translation into other languages. The specific lexis, phraseology and discourse features of the LSP of design and usability could be described.

Conclusions

The new linguistic reality of the web brings constrains and opportunities. This general outlook proposes questions for further study and suggests that research from the Linguistics perspective could make a contribution to web usability.

Bibliography

  • Crystal, D. (2001). Language and the Internet , Cambridge University Press.
  • Preece, J.; Rogers, Y.; Benyon, D.; Sharp, H.; Carey, T. and Holland, S. (1994) Human Computer-Interaction. Addison-Wesley,.
  • Rogers, Y. (2000). Recent Theoretical Developments in HCI; Their Value for Informing Systems Design.

Acerca del autor/a:

María Angeles Martín del Pozo. Departamento de Filología Inglesa - Universidad de Valladolid. Personal website

Citación recomendada:

Martín del Pozo, María Angeles (2005). Linguistics and web usability. En: No Solo Usabilidad, nš 4, 2005. <nosolousabilidad.com>. ISSN 1886-8592

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