Message Design: Reading Reflection W5

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Reflection Week 5 Submitted: June 12, 2008 Reflection – Hartley By: Jennifer Maddrell For: Dr. Morrison, IDT 895 Overview Hartley (2004) provides a comprehensive overview of the design of informational text. He covers key typography considerations, navigational aspects, writing for understanding, and design considerations for those with special needs. While Hartley notes in the introduction that there are no theoretical perspectives driving this paper, he covers a broad range of research to derive the heuristics described below. Summary of Key Findings Typography. Regarding page size, Hartley notes that typography choices depend on several practical considerations including: a) how the information is going to be read, b) reader preference, c) production cost, and d) printing conventions. While margins, column width, and type size depend greatly on printing considerations, the spacing of sentences and paragraphs, headings use, and the total number of lines on a page should be carefully considered and utilized in a consistent manner throughout the work While preference plays a part in typeface selection, Hartley cites typeface research by Black which suggests that the selection should reflect the availability of the typeface. This is also an important consideration in onscreen displays, as well. In addition, Hartley notes that serif fonts (with finishing strokes) are often recommended for the body while sans serif fonts are used for a) headings, b) older readers, or c) when smaller sized typefaces are required. Given the large amount of research on color, Hartley chooses to present the key generalizations (as discussed in previous reflections), including the overall finding that color selection can impact learning. Navigation. The overriding pragmatic message is that text should be readable, properly sequenced, and facilitate skimming, searching, and re-reading. The structure of titles, summaries, signal words (such as “therefore” or “however”), outlines, and headings can all provide visual cues to learners. Further, separated itemized lists have been shown to be superior to continuous lists within a sentence. Hartley notes that there is no clear consensus on the use of call out boxes. However, based on research reviewed in prior reflections, it would seem call out boxes of related text would produce split attention effects similar to those found in research on diagrams. Writing for understanding. When writing for understanding it is important to consider the paragraph, sentence, and word length, potential ambiguities (such as acronyms), and qualifiers (use of words like “often”). Hartley provides a summary of ways to clarify text for readers, including starting a new sentence rather than using multiple clauses and writing in an active positive voice versus a passive negative voice. However, he cautions that making the text more interesting may come at the cost of distracting the learner from the important messages of the passage. Hartley also addresses design considerations specifically related to textbook design. He suggests that the text should be geared to the target audience, written to contemplate the ability and experience level of the learners, and include examples, questions, and supplementary material. 1|Page Reflection Week 5 Submitted: June 12, 2008 By: Jennifer Maddrell For: Dr. Morrison, IDT 895 Readers with special needs. Hartley summarizes cognitive research on aging and ability and ties it back to message design considerations. The findings he cites suggest that working memory capacity declines with age while task difficult tends to increase with age. Therefore, factors such as verbal ability, prior knowledge, text structure, and recall of instructions become increasingly important as the age of the reader increases. Message design strategies, including the use of larger type, more readable text, and clarifying structures, can assist perceptual and memory processing for older adults and those with impaired abilities. Importance of Paper Hartley provides designers with a host of best practices with regard to creating text based instructional materials. He describes important findings from research and highlights areas where no research has been conducted, but where practical conventions have been established. Hartley also provides a good overview of ways to measure text difficulty and to present instructional material. The greatest strength of this paper is Hartley’s pragmatic approach to message design. While he provides many detailed heuristics, there is an overriding theme of “do what makes sense” … for the situation, for the reader, etc. Further, he tends to advocate keeping things simple and making the typographic choices transparent to the learner. As noted on page 922, “There is no need to use three or more additional cues when one or two will do.” Another key take-a-way from the paper is that a reader’s reaction to typography is learned. As he notes on page 921, young readers are not aware of the significance of common presentation and organizational conventions, such as the use of headings, bold letters, or italics. Further, he reminds us that these conventions are not perceived in the same manner by all learners. Hartley closes with recommendations for future research. Noting the increasing control readers have over text presentation, he suggests that optimal message design features (such typefaces, sizes, summaries, and headings) be further assessed in order to give readers vetted choices. Reflection – Meyer and Poon Overview Meyer and Poon (2001) assess the effect of providing learners with structure and interest strategy training. They conducted research to assess the hypothesis that learners can benefit from training to recognize and use common text signals, structures, and conventions when reading. Research and Findings Research. Those in the experimental group received structure strategy training which taught learner to recognize and use signals. The hypothesis was that training would a) increase total recall, b) increase the amount of information remembered, c) improve organization of recall, and d) increase strategy use. Findings. The findings suggest that the training in the structure strategies increased overall information recall, increased recall for the key information in the text, affected the organization of recall, and increased strategy use. However, contrary to other findings, the 2|Page Reflection Week 5 Submitted: June 12, 2008 By: Jennifer Maddrell For: Dr. Morrison, IDT 895 signaling within the text did not significantly increase recall. Overall, the findings suggest that structure strategy training can improve recall regardless of the signals presented in the text. Importance of Paper Given this semester is about message design, it seems fair game to critique the message design of the work itself. Through this semester’s sprint through media design literature, I have developed a very short fuse for poorly written research papers that dance and zigzag through the description of the research and the findings. Unfortunately, this paper falls in that category. The report is so poorly written that the key message (that structure strategy training can improve recall regardless of the signals presented in the text) is almost entirely lost. While I was able to take a stab at the key findings above, it is just my best guess following repeated readings. The abstract is one of the most poorly written paragraphs I have ever read and includes this incomprehensible sentence, “There was an additive effect of training plus signaling for use of the structure strategy consistently across five passages.” WHAT? Give the reader at least a fighting chance to figure out what you are writing about! Unfortunately, things get worse from there, including this gem on page 144: If a control group (receiving no instruction) does not differ in organization of recall from the interest group using the list strategy but does differ from the structure strategy group, then the dominant learner strategy for the sample of adult readers may be the list strategy, or alternatively, another strategy not focused on text structure. If, however, the control group is more similar to the structure strategy group than to the interest-list group, then the dominant reader strategy in the prose learning settings is more likely to be the structure strategy. Reflection – Jonassen Overview Several writers contribute to the four reviewed chapters in The Technology of Text edited by Jonassen (1982 and 1985). Chapter topics include signaling the text structure (Meyer, 1985), headings (Hartley and Jonassen, 1985), text as diagrams (Waller, 1982), and textual display techniques (Duchastel, 1985). Important Themes in Chapters Signaling the text structure. Meyer (1985) discusses the importance of writing plans, including the significance of organizing around main ideas and the sequencing of key ideas. Research suggests that presenting readers with a visible plan aids in reader interpretation. According to Meyer, content is generally organized and sequenced based on a) association, b) time sequence, c) causal relationships, d) problem / solution, or e) comparison. According to Meyer, the overall plan should be signaled to learners through four means: 1) cues about the structure, 2) preview statements, 3) summary statements, and 4) cues about important words, 3|Page Reflection Week 5 Submitted: June 12, 2008 By: Jennifer Maddrell For: Dr. Morrison, IDT 895 including pointer words, underlining, or italics. Titles, subtitles, abstracts, introductions, summaries, and figures should also be used to highlight main themes. Headings. Hartley and Jonassen (1985) address the significance of headings as tools to support encoding and retrieval. They note the contradictions found in research regarding the significance (or lack thereof) of headings. While they cover much of the same ground addressed by other authors in this selection of reflections, they make a distinction between the uses of headings in electronic versus printed displays. They note that while the headings serve similar orientation and signaling functions, headings also serve a type of navigation (or bread crumb) function in electronic text menus which point to important sections. Text as Diagram. Waller (1982) considers texts as a form of diagram which represents component ideas and relationships among them. He suggests that typography and layout should be guided by three distinct functions: 1) syntactic structure (graphical ordering and grouping on the page), b) artefactual effects (spatial components on the page), and 3) use by reader. As discussed elsewhere in this reflection, the signaling effect of text provides an aid to readers by offering both an overview of material and assistance in planning a reading strategy. Noted global aids include content lists, concept diagrams, indices, glossaries, objectives, and summaries, as well as embedded cues for readers found in headings, punctuation, and other page layout conventions such as the chosen typeface, text size, and color choices. Textual display techniques. Duchastel (1985) reviews the significance of text presentation on a page. He asserts that text can be seen as both the communication medium and the message (the subject matter) which must be processed by the reader. Duchastel argues that is important to consider text as more than just the “package” for the message. He asserts that the textual display features and techniques should be considered in terms of how they impact processing by the reader. He focuses on three processing areas: 1) attention, 2) comprehension, and 3) retention. Duchastel suggests that all three of these areas are impacted by the learner’s ability to select and focus upon important information from the text. Therefore, he places great emphasis on display techniques, including the use of headings, subheadings, terminology markers, content markers, implicit highlighting (overviews and advance organizers), explicit highlighting (typography), and illustrations, designed to help readers focus on important points and selectively process the text. Reflection – Ward Ward (1955) offers important reminders and suggestions regarding typography. She stresses a focus on coherent expression of thought. This applies to content presentation, as well as the content itself. As noted in my rant above, readers should not be left screaming, "TELL ME YOUR POINT ALREADY!" In addition, she reminds us that the purpose of writing is to convey thoughts, ideas, and images from one mind to another. Therefore, the focus must be on what will best foster that conveyance with fewest distractions and interruptions. A focus on anything else (flair and frills) will instead cloud the message. Ward drives home this need for transparency in transmission by stating that the printed page should be an “unnoticed vehicle for transmission of ideas” ... cool! 4|Page Reflection Week 5 Submitted: June 12, 2008 By: Jennifer Maddrell For: Dr. Morrison, IDT 895 Ward also suggests that good writing involves thoughtful work on the part of the writer. The harder the writer works to properly convey the message, the less hard the reader will have to work to comprehend the message and the more likely the message will be received as intended. 5|Page Reflection Week 5 Submitted: June 12, 2008 References By: Jennifer Maddrell For: Dr. Morrison, IDT 895 Duchastel, P. (1982). Textual display techniques. In D. Jonassen, Ed. (1982), The technology of text: Principles for structuring, designing, and displaying text. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. Hartley, J. (2004). Designing instructional and informational text. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 2nd Ed. Chapter 34 917-948. Hartley, J. & Jonassen, D. (1985) The role of headings in printed and electronic text. In D. Jonassen, Ed. (1985), The technology of text: Principles for structuring, designing, and displaying text Volume 2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. Jonassen, D. H. (2004). Handbook of research on educational communications and technology. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum. Meyer, B. (1985). Signaling the structure of text. In D. Jonassen, Ed. (1985), The technology of text: Principles for structuring, designing, and displaying text Volume 2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. Meyer, B. J. F., & Poon, L. W. (2001). Effects of structure strategy training and signaling on recall of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 141–159. Waller, R. (1982). Text as a diagram: Using typography to improve access and understanding. In D. Jonassen, Ed. (1982), The technology of text: Principles for structuring, designing, and displaying text. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. Ward, B. (1955). The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible. . Retrieved June 8, 2008, from http://gmunch.home.pipeline.com/typo-L/misc/ward.htm. 6|Page