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Language and Communication: Essential Concepts for User Interface and Documentation Design

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Computer interfaces and documentation are notorious for being difficult to learn and use. This timely volume shows how ideas developed by linguists and language teachers can be used to design computers which are truly user-friendly. The author argues that software and hardware designers should see users as language learners and consider such fundamental language concepts as meaning, context, function, variety, and equivalence. He goes on to show how imagining an interface as a new language can be an invaluable exercise, calling into question deeply held beliefs and assumptions about what users will or will not understand. Written for a wide range of computer scientists and presuming no prior knowledge of language-related terminology, this volume could be a key step in the on-going information revolution.

This book has been written with the intention of opening up the field of language and communication to people who are involved in computer application and documentation design, who are concerned about making their systems understandable to users. It shows how important concepts from this field can be applied in practice to improve design, so that users do not have to experience the frustration and bewilderment that is all too common when interacting with existing applications, "help" facilities, and manuals. No previous knowledge of language-related terminology is assumed on the part of the reader.

The task of describing a range of language and communication concepts to students, specialists, and professionals working in other fields—broadly speaking, in user interface and documentation design—has been a compelling enterprise. I have a very strong empathy with computer users and a fervent belief that language is a key element in human-computer communication. This conviction comes from experience training humanities students in the use of information, interaction, and communication technologies and from designing and evaluating computer applications for other nontechnical users. The original impetus for this book came from my doctoral thesis on users' language in relation to the task of information retrieval from documentation on computer security (Kukulska-Hulme, 1993). This book covers a far broader area and gives readers the means to address a wide range of problems
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