Proceedings: GI 2008

An empirical characterisation of electronic document navigation

Jason Alexander , Andy Cockburn

Proceedings of Graphics Interface 2008: Windsor, Ontario, Canada, 28 - 30 May 2008, 123-130

DOI 10.20380/GI2008.16

  • Bibtex

    author = {Alexander, Jason and Cockburn, Andy},
    title = {An empirical characterisation of electronic document navigation},
    booktitle = {Proceedings of Graphics Interface 2008},
    series = {GI 2008},
    year = {2008},
    issn = {0713-5424},
    isbn = {978-1-56881-423-0},
    location = {Windsor, Ontario, Canada},
    pages = {123--130},
    numpages = {8},
    doi = {10.20380/GI2008.16},
    publisher = {Canadian Human-Computer Communications Society},
    address = {Toronto, Ontario, Canada},


To establish an empirical foundation for analysis and redesign of document navigation tools, we implemented a system that logs all user actions within Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader. We then conducted a four month longitudinal study of fourteen users' document navigation activities. The study found that approximately half of all documents manipulated are reopenings of previously used documents and that recent document lists are rarely used to return to a document. The two most used navigation tools (by distance moved) are the mousewheel and scrollbar thumb, accounting for 44% and 29% of Word movement and 17% and 31% of Reader navigation. Participants were grouped into stereotypical navigator categories based on the tools they used the most. Majority of the navigation actions observed were short, both in distance (less than one page) and in time (less than one second). We identified three types of within document hunting, with the scrollbar identified as the greatest contributor.