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QuikScan: Formatting Documents for Better Comprehension and Navigation

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Design: QuikScan is an innovative format that makes print and online documents more usable. QuikScan employs within-document summaries formatted as numbered list items. These numbers correspond to numbers placed in the body of the document where the summarized ideas are discussed in full. QuikScan enables readers to (1) read summaries instead of the detailed content, (2) use the summaries as previews, (3) navigate quickly to the place where a summarized idea is fully discussed in the body of the document, and (4) direct other individuals to locations in the document. QuikScan is nonproprietary; anyone is free to use it and adapt it to their needs.

Requirements: QuikScanning requires the skills of a talented editor and takes practice to master. QuikScanners must choose among four kinds of summaries and three numbering systems, depending on the document's heading structure and other factors. Document elements such as graphics require special techniques. The list items that make up QuikScan summaries must be skillfully written, and target numbers must be placed with care.

Results: Empirical studies have demonstrated that QuikScan improves comprehension and the ability to navigate quickly through a document. In addition, QuikScan is regarded positively by readers. A pilot study suggests the value of QuikScan for blind readers.

Drawbacks and limitations: QuikScan requires extra work, makes documents longer, and increases both visual complexity and the number of short pages. It is not suitable for documents that do not much benefit from summarization or for documents with free-form layouts.
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Keywords: DOCUMENT FORMAT; LAYOUT; QUIKSCAN; READING COMPREHENSION; SUMMARIES

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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