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Recognizing Digital Genre

Recognizing Digital Genre, a short 2001 paper by Elaine Toms at the University of Toronto continues (for me, at least) Dillon’s work on the shape of information, although it strangely doesn’t reference Dillon. It does include one super neato experiment. Highlights:

  • Creating Web documents is a cookie-cutter affair as documents of differing types are formatted with essentially the same structure, eliminating or disguising those visual cues that help people to make sense of the content and requiring additional effort to interpret the document.
  • An experiment asked people to recognize three versions of documents: an original, a ‘content version’ with all the formatting removed, and a ‘form version’ with formatting left intact but characters and numbers changed to X’s and 9’s respectively. Not surprisingly, the original and content versions were recognized more often, but the form version – when recognized – was recognized twice as fast as the other versions.
  • As a final test…we mixed and matched content and form within a single document…. People focused on the form or structure of the document first and were more likely to call a bibliography-formatted-like-a-dictionary, a dictionary rather than a bibliography.
  • For Dillon the precise definition of information shape is elusive; Toms defines it as ‘the regular and logical pattern of elements (the shape of information) expressed by a discourse community.

The references lists related work by her and others. Thanks Elaine.