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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Natural command names and initial learning: a study of text-editing terms

In the first of two studies of “naturalness” in command names, computer-naive typists composed instructions to “someone else” for correcting a sample text. There was great variety in their task-descriptive lexicon and a lack of correspondence between both their vocabulary and their underlying conceptions of the editing operations and those of some computerized text editors. In the second study, computer-naive typists spent two hours learning minimal text-editing systems that varied in several ways. Lexical naturalness (frequency of use in Study 1) made little difference in their performance. By contrast, having different, rather than the same names for operations requiring different syntax greatly reduced difficulty. It is concluded that the design of user-compatible commands involves deeper issues than are captured by the slogan “naturalness.” However, there are limitations to our observations. Only initial learning of a small set of commands was at issue and generalizations to other situations will require further testing.

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