Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Watching the monkeys
A fun story in the Chicago Tribune about an undercover researcher watching how visitors to an ape exhibit utilized instructional material. The researcher posed as an animal behaviorist studying the apes, but in reality she was cataloging the behavior of the human visitors. This required some subterfuge and a little practice, but in the end resulted in the discovery of how people really behave, and what kind of questions they have, when they're just being themselves.
Documentation usability studies face the same hurdles as the zoo administrators, the difference between people's real and observed behavior can be quite dramatic, particularly when the subjects know they are under scrutiny. In the case of this zoo study, the results weren't far afield from those of documentation studies--people don't like to read and, if it suffices, will make up their own answers and rationalizations even when authoritative references are close at hand.