|TITLE:||THE PROBLEM OF LOCATION: WEBSITE NAVIGATION STANDARDS AND USER EXPECTATIONS OF MENU PLACEMENT ON E-COMMERCE WEBSITES|
|PRINCIPLE INVESTIGATOR:||STANCLIFF, RACHEL|
ENGLISH, FOREIGN LANGUAGES, & JOURNALISM
File Created: September 24, 2012|
Department Chair Action Date: September 24, 2012
Current Status: Expedited Approval Granted
Action Date: September 25, 2012
Approval Expiration Date: September 25, 2013
|Confidentiality||Data are not linked to individuals|
STATEMENT OF PURPOSEThe World Wide Web could not exist without the basic hyperlink, the building block of navigation. Navigation systems and the website layouts that they are a part of have become increasingly complex and sophisticated. Any technical communicator who becomes responsible for the graphic design, layout, and structure of a website’s form and content has likewise been given an increasingly complex and sensitive task. My study focuses on user expectations for the layout and placement of four functional groupings (or menus) of navigation links that have emerged within broad website navigation systems: global, local, associative, and utility menus. Specifically, my study will compare technical communicators’ “common knowledge” about the conventional placement of navigation menus with savvy website users’ expectations of the same menus. Due to the wide range of website types and the almost infinite possible variations of audiences these sites area aimed at, I will narrow my focus to navigation menus in e-commerce websites and the expectations that the most confident and intensive website users have. Proper website architecture is particularly beneficial for the owners and maintainers of e-commerce websites, who can make or lose large amounts of money because of the smallest details. Users are also becoming increasingly proficient and comfortable with using websites; in the not so distant future, a majority of website users will not be able to remember a time before the World Wide Web, the so-called “digital natives” or “Net Generation”. The developers and maintainers of e-commerce websites need to know how to meet the expectations of these users to develop and preserve their websites’ credibility. POSSIBLE OUTCOMES I have two hypotheses for the outcome of my study. First, web design layout conventions may not meet user expectations because technical communicators do not know what those expectations are (or they only know anecdotally). Second, conventions may meet expectations because users form their mental models based on the layout standards that they most frequently see and use.
STATEMENT OF RESEARCH METHODOLOGYThere are two sets of data that I will gather: guidelines within the technical communication field for the locations of navigation menus and user expectations about the locations of these same menus. My methodology will consist of an analysis of popular technical communication sources about website design, a survey of users (consisting of questions and a grid for locating menus), and short interviews with users. CURRENT CONVENTIONS My first set of data will be the “common knowledge” in technical communication about website layout and navigation menus. I will sample some of the most popular texts and resources used by technical communicators and synthesize a set of guidelines. Proposed texts are: • Redish’s Letting Go of the Words • Yahoo Design Pattern Library (http://developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns) • Kalbach’s Designing Web Navigation • Morville and Rosenfeld’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web • Wodtke and Govella’s Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web • articles in Intercom, Technical Communication, and Technical Communication Quarterly USER EXPECTATIONS My second set of data will be user expectations. I will gather user expectations in two steps: with a survey that is designed to collect a statistically large enough amount of data to determine if there are any patterns to participants’ expectations and with a smaller number of short interviews, which will focus on participants’ thought processes to give context to any patterns. Grid Survey: I will survey a minimum of 100 participants about their experience with web design, how frequently they use websites and make online purchases, and 3-5 of their most used shopping websites. I will follow these questions with a grid adapted from the system used by Bernard (2001) and Shaikh and Lenz (2006) to gather information about participants’ schemas for locations of navigation menus. Participants will be asked to respond to prompts by marking on the grid where they would expect to find desired links. Interviews: I will conduct short interviews with 10-15 participants in which I ask them to find navigation menu links on a real website while speaking aloud their thought processes. These interviews are expected to last 30 minutes for each participant; guidelines for these sessions will be adapted from Barnum (2011) and Krug (2006). I will record the audio of each participant session, in addition to marking their responses to each prompt on the same grid used in the grid survey step. The four prompts (the same as the prompts from the grid survey) will be: 1. You’ve come to a website looking for information about what this company sells. Where do you expect to find a link for their online store? 2. Now that you’ve found the link, where would you expect to find a link for personal hygiene products now that you can see all the categories? 3. Now you’re looking at a specific product, but it’s not quite what you want – you want to see other similar products. Where would you expect to find a link to other related or suggested products on this page? 4. Imagine that you’ve found a product you want and added it to your shopping cart. Now you want to see your shopping cart. Where would you expect to find the Shopping Cart link so you can see its contents? After gathering this data, I will compare the guidelines for navigation menu locations with user expectations to see if they meet, overlap, or differ.
ANTICIPATED RISKS AND BENEFITSRISKS AND ETHICS This study poses no risks to me or to participants. It will be done anonymously for both survey and interview participants. I will collect age so that I can filter out responses outside of my target age group; given the high percentage of non-traditional students at Missouri Western, this is a particularly vital question. I will ask for gender information in case it is correlated with answers and preferences. I will have to guard against my own bias as a web designer. I may unconsciously push participants to respond or act in certain ways, but I will minimize this probability by following scripts for the survey and interviews. BENEFITS This research will benefit technical communicators who often fulfill web design, web development, and website information architecture roles for their employers. This study will attempt to provide results that can update or strengthen the conventions of web design and layout in the technical communication field, thereby aligning practitioners’ guidelines with reality.
SUBJECT SELECTIONPARTICIPANTS The target participants for this study are the generation of “digital natives”: users who are young enough that they cannot remember a time before the ubiquitous Web. Digital natives are roughly defined as people born after 1980, who in 2012 would be up to 32 years old (Schwarz, 2009). The traditional college student is 18-25 years old and fits within this category. I will recruit participants for my study from General Education courses at Missouri Western, discarding responses from any non-traditional students who are younger or older than this average. Approximately 100 students will take the grid survey to gather user expectations; an additional 10-15 will be interviewed.
CONFIDENTIALITYAll survey and interview data that I will collect from participants will be immediately separated from the signed consent forms to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. Consent forms, which will be the only way to identify participants, will be stored in a locked file cabinet off-campus, accessible only to the investigator. All digitized information will be kept on a private computer.
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