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ENGW 3332: Writing Online

Unit #3: Content and Usability Analysis Report

Due Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Submission Name: usabilityreport.zip


The U.S. government’s usability website defines usability as follows: “In general, usability refers to how well users can learn and use a product to achieve their goals and how satisfied they are with that process.” As users of numerous websites, we constantly make split-second judgments about whether or not sites are “usable.” In other words, we quickly decide whether a site helps or hinders our ability to complete a specific task. We tend to return often to sites that are easy to navigate, while we stop visiting sites that are overly confusing or unhelpful.

For this assignment, you will work with a small group of your peers to select a website, evaluate its content, test its usability, and write a report to the owner/operator of the site making recommendations for improvement. Your report to the client will also contain re-coded pages (or, if this is not possible, mockups of redesigned pages) that demonstrate the changes you are proposing. Ideally, you will focus your work on a website for a local organization that wants your help and is in a position to implement your proposed changes.

You will work in teams of 2–4 people, and we will determine teams based on the availability of project sites and your individual interests.

Assignment Details

Select a Website. The first important decision you’ll make on this project is choosing a site to test. As you consider candidates for testing, try to follow the Goldilocks principle: look for a site that’s not too big and not too small, but just right. It’s hard to test a site that has only two pages, and it’s even harder to test a site that has 15,000 pages. Because this assignment focuses on improving the content and usability of a website, you should select a site that you feel has room for improvement. Likewise, because usability tests work best when subjects are seeing the site for the first time, you should select a site that likely will be unfamiliar to your test subjects (your friends, family, neighbors, etc.). Translation: Don’t choose Google, Amazon.com, eBay, etc. If you already have a site in mind for the final client project, you may want to use that site for this project, too. If you would like to do this, please check with Quinn to make sure that the site you have in mind will work for both projects.

Develop a Usability Test. Once you have selected a site, you can begin to develop a usability testing protocol. For the most part, we will follow the process outlined on Usability.gov. This process includes writing a test plan, developing personas, creating scenarios, piloting the test, and refining the test. We will discuss each of these steps in greater detail in class.

Conduct the Test. Once your plan is ready and Dr. Warnick has approved it, you can begin conducting your tests. Again, we will follow the recommendations found on Usability.gov and in Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, and we will use various software programs (e.g., Silverback and QuickTime) to record the actual tests. You will conduct your test with 8-10 subjects, then analyze your recordings. Your usability tests will provide you with the bulk of your data for this project, so conducting the tests in a uniform, professional manner will be absolutely essential to your success as a team. You will submit the recordings of your usability tests at the conclusion of this project.

Create Prototypes. Based on the results of your usability tests, you will develop at least two prototypes of changes to the site you are testing. For example, to improve the content of the site, you might rewrite the welcome message on the homepage, develop new sidebars, or edit a particularly confusing page. To improve the usability of the site, you might propose a new navigation menu, a repositioned search box, or a site map. Ideally, your prototypes should function as regular (X)HTML pages, but depending on the complexity of your site (or the nature of your recommendations), your prototypes may be mockups created in Photoshop or another image-editing program.

Write the Report. Finally, you will write a substantive report (8–10 pages) detailing the results of your tests and proposing improvements to the site based on your research. Your report should be written in memo/letter format, directly to the client (whether real or imaginary). The report should describe the process you used to test the site, present your findings, and make specific recommendations for improving both the content and the usability of the site. The most successful reports will include several annotated images, either from the original site or from your redesigned pages.

Submit Your Project. Because your work on this project may involve sensitive information written for a real client, you should not put your complete report online without your client’s permission. Instead, your team will submit a printed report at the beginning of class on April 17. In addition, you should create a zipped file containing a copy of your report, your videos, drafts of your plan, etc., and upload it to the following location: myweb.stedwards.edu/YOURID/usabilityreport.zip. (Note: Only one member of your team needs to upload the zipped file. If your file is too big to upload, you can transfer it to my external hard drive on April 17.)

Evaluation Criteria

Your grade on this assignment will be determined by your performance on the following criteria:

  • Project Scope and Plan—Did you select a site of reasonable size and scope? Did you submit copies of your proposal and your usability protocol to Dr. Warnick? Was your plan “do-able,” or was it too timid or too ambitious?
  • Evidence of Testing—Does your final project file contain video and/or audio files of your usability tests? Do these videos show that you conducted your tests in a professional manner, following the guidelines discussed in class?
  • Page Prototypes—Do your page prototypes accurately reflect the suggestions made by your test subjects? Do the prototypes represent an improvement in content and usability compared to the original site?
  • Quality of Writing—How well does your report communicate your activities and findings to the client? Is the report structured logically? Does it incorporate screenshots of the site? Does it make clear recommendations for usability improvements? Does the report adhere to the conventions of standard written English?