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Monday, July 23, 2007  

An Essay on Ease of Use: Intuitiveness

In my last post, I began what is amounting to an essay on what makes a program easy to use. In that post, I listed and defined the various elements which make an interface easy to use, and sketched out the basic way those elements interact with each other. In this post, we'll look at the first of those elements—intuitiveness—in greater detail.

As we have seen, an interface is intuitive when it is readily understood by the user. Ideally, this means there is little or no need for the user to be trained or to consult a manual.

This is often the first thing that comes to mind when people think of ease of use. Let's face it, most of us get new software and we want to start playing with it right away. We don't want to sit down and start reading about all the nuts and bolts; we want to see immediately that the software will be of benefit to us.

How easy a program is to figure out depends on a number of factors:

Simplicity. A steak knife is naturally more intuitive than a Swiss Army knife. The steak knife does one thing well, where the Swiss army knife does a wide variety of things. I have a simple little Swiss Army knife attached to my key-chain. It has a knife, a nail file that also doubles as a screwdriver, and a diminutive pair of scissors. Even with such a limited range of choices, it is not uncommon for me to pull out the wrong tool before I find the right one. I never make that mistake with a steak knife (especially when I'm hungry!).

In the same way, a program which only attempts to do a few things will naturally be more intuitive than a program which offers many features aimed at a wide range of users. The greater complexity of the latter program requires the developer to work harder to make the program easy to figure out.

When I used to conduct Bible software surveys for CMUG, I used to get comments like, "Just make it like iTunes." Okaaaay. Take a program which attempts a wide variety of Bible study tasks using a wide variety of Bible study resources and make it like a program which only does music. Today, of course, iTunes also does movies, podcasts, album art, includes a store, etc. Apple has done an excellent job of keeping iTunes easy to use, but its interface has nevertheless become more complex, and more choices mean the user is more likely to make a mistake.

Learning curve. Have you ever found it easy to figure out a program's basic functions, but then found it mystifying once you got deeper into it? The challenge of making a program intuitive is that you have to think about the entire learning process a user is likely to go through. And since different users have different needs and learn in different ways, that can be a daunting task!

It's such a daunting task, in fact, that few developers really do it. Most just settle for making a program easy for the beginning user who only wants a few basic functions. If the user wants anything more than that, the learning curve becomes much steeper.

For example, I went to a two-day training seminar for a program which marketed the initial aspect of its interface as easy to use. After spending about 40 minutes on that aspect of the interface, the trainer basically said something to the effect that it was a "crutch" for beginning users and that we would use it less and less the more we learned how to use the program. Needless to say, with the crutch taken away, this program became much less intuitive (hence the need for the two-day seminar).

Consistency. The best way to ensure that a program is intuitive across its entire learning curve is to make the interface as consistent as possible. Rather than offering the new user a shallow learning curve and then surprising him later on with a much steeper learning curve, a consistent interface enables the user to take the basic procedures he has already learned and apply them to more difficult tasks. That way, the learning curve becomes a smooth uphill climb rather than a shallow ascent to the foot of a steep cliff!

Design. How you design your program's interface can go a long way toward helping users figure out how to do things. For example, when Accordance was first released, it was relatively simple, and most of the important options could easily be placed in a single Options menu. As the program grew and became more sophisticated, it became clear that we had too many options in the Options menu, and people were no longer easily discovering those features. With version 6, we overhauled the interface and redesigned the menus so that all the search features were readily available in a Search menu, and all the display options were contained in a Display menu. This change was hardly earth-shattering, but it made it easier for the new user to know where to look for certain features.

Another design challenge for full-featured programs like Accordance is that on the one hand, you don't want to accost the new user with lots of features and options he is not ready to use; but on the other hand, you don't want to hide those features so that he fails to discover them once he is ready for them. Many programs rely on contextual menus as a way to hide complexity until the user is ready for it, but that's only half a solution. It works well for users who have been trained to right-mouse click whenever they don't know what to do, but it's still a hidden interface element which is not necessarily intuitive to brand new computer users. When we redesigned the interface for version 6, we chose to use disclosure triangles to hide portions of the interface which might be daunting to a new user. The advantage of the disclosure triangle is that it gives the user a visual cue that something more is available.

In general, a visible interface element is preferable to an invisible one, unless of course, the user is expecting an invisible one! Although we had planned to add contextual menus for version 6, they didn't make it into Accordance until version 7. For those who were used to contextual menus, the absence of them in Accordance made Accordance less intuitive. When they would get stuck, they would instinctively try control- or right-mouse clicking rather than going up to the menu bar or clicking disclosure triangles, so they were less likely to be able to figure out how to do what they wanted. Again, familiarity played a big role in determining how intuitive Accordance was to those users.

There's certainly more that could be said about what makes a program intuitive, but this post is already long enough. In the next post, we'll look at the factors which contribute to a program's ease of operation.





Friday, July 20, 2007  

An Essay on Ease of Use

On Wednesday, I promised to dust off an old e-mail I wrote on the different things that contribute to our perception of a program as easy to use. As I've begun editing and expanding it, it's beginning to turn into an essay! I'm not sure how much this will help you to get more out of Accordance, except perhaps that the next time you hear someone say Accordance is "hard to use," you'll be better equipped to show them the light! Anyway, here is the first installment.

Ease of use is determined by a number of different factors, including: (1) intuitiveness, (2) ease of operation, (3) design (4) consistency, and (5) familiarity. While we can talk about each of these elements separately, they are really intimately interconnected. To help us think about how they are interconnected, consider the following diagram of a see-saw.

I have placed "intuitiveness" and "ease of operation" on opposite ends of the see-saw because they are often in direct tension with each other. Design, consistency, and familiarity combine to form the base of the see-saw. The interplay of those three elements determines how intuitive and easy the user perceives a program to be.

The challenge for the developer is to try and fit all these elements together in a way that will make things easy for users with various levels of skill, experience, and interest. It ends up being a delicate balancing act—hence the image of a see-saw.

Let's begin by defining our terms, then we'll examine each one in more detail.

(1) Intuitiveness refers to how readily someone can figure out how to use a piece of software.

(2) Ease of operation refers to a program's convenience and flexibility, to how easy it is to get things done on a day-to-day basis.

(3) Design refers to how the interface is laid out and how the program operates.

(4) Consistency is technically an element of a program's design, but it is such an important element that it is worth considering separately. If a program behaves in predictable and consistent ways, particularly across the full breadth of its feature set, the user can learn to use additional features more easily.

(5) Familiarity is the one thing a developer has absolutely no control over. If a given user is already familiar with at least some aspects of a program's interface, he will find it easier to use than a program which is unlike anything he has ever seen before. In fact, the more familiar he is with a certain way of doing things, the more likely he is to perceive something different to be "hard."

To understand the tension between intuitiveness and ease of operation, consider the classic interface debate about mouse buttons. Few people who complain about Apple's one-button mouse realize that Apple actually experimented with, and rejected, three and two button mice before they ever released the first Macintosh computer (or its predecessor, the Lisa). The reason they rejected extra mouse buttons was that they were not intuitive. No one (besides a few computer scientists at Xerox) had ever used a mouse before, but they had all been pointing with their index fingers at objects they wanted since they were babies. One button mice took a hand position people were familiar with and applied it to the manipulation of objects in a graphical user interface. Nobody was used to pointing with two fingers and picking up an object with the other three.

People can, of course, be trained to do things which are not immediately intuitive, and that's exactly what happened when Microsoft opted for a two-button mouse. The thing Microsoft did right with the two-button mouse was to give it a consistent function, the invocation of a contextual menu. Thus, while the new user would often make mistakes and click the wrong button, he was being trained with each mistake to access more options with the right mouse button. Once learned, the second mouse button provided a convenience—that is, it provided greater ease of operation.

Thus, Apple chose to produce a mouse which was intuitive, while Microsoft chose a mouse which offered greater flexibility and convenience. The widespread adoption of Windows led to most computer users being trained to use a two-button mouse. Ironically, those who switched to Macs from Windows found the more intuitive one-button mouse to be "harder to use"!

This example shows how creating an interface which is easy to use can be a moving target, or to stick with our see-saw metaphor, a delicate balance. In the next post, we'll look more closely at what goes into making an interface intuitive.





Thursday, July 19, 2007  

Moonlighting

One of the blogs I enjoy following is the Better Bibles Blog, which is focused on ways to improve the accuracy and readability of English translations of the Bible. I'm not sure why, but Wayne Leman's recent post about some of the suggestions he's made to various translation teams got me thinking about something I had written in one of my Accordance User Notes files. In my notes on Romans 8:33-34, I had suggested an alternate way to translate those two verses. Though I'm certainly no translation expert, it struck me that my notes on those verses might make for a good post to the Better Bibles Blog.

So I edited my notes a bit and sent them to Wayne asking if he might consider letting me act as a guest blogger. To make a long story short, I've now signed on as an occasional contributor to the Better Bibles Blog. If you're interested, you can read my first post here.





Wednesday, July 18, 2007  

Touché!

Yesterday, I compared the cost to upgrade Accordance with that of a Bible program which is positioned as a low-cost solution. My point was that Accordance upgrades are not only a greater value, but are even a little cheaper. In the process though, I let some of my Mac biases (not to mention my Accordance biases) slip out in a critical comment about this other program's interface. Mind you, I didn't name or link to this program, but there are so few Mac Bible programs out there it wasn't hard to figure out which one I was talking about.

In the comments on that post, one user felt that I was out of line to criticize another program on Accordance's official blog, and he is probably right. I was feeling pretty guilty about it until this afternoon, when I received yet another e-mail offer from this developer (I told you I get these things once or twice a week!). Prominently featured was the following blurb:

[Name deleted] was created from the ground up to be a truly native OS-X application. You won't need to purchase a set of tutorial videos.

Ouch! That hits a little close to home! I had to laugh and think, "Touché! I guess we're even!"

That's not to say I think this advertisement was written in response to yesterday's blog post; I'm sure the ad was designed before that. But the timing of the ad sure helped ease my guilt! :-)

The ad went on to state:

Any Mac user interested in Bible reading, Bible study, sermon preparation, or teaching, will quickly discover how easy the program is to use. [Name deleted] is the most intuitive and Mac-embracing Bible study software on the market.

All this talk of interface, along with the previous discussion I had with an anonymous commenter about the way Accordance handles tagged versus untagged texts, has gotten me thinking about something I wrote years ago on the subject of "ease of use." Thanks to Spotlight (which, by the way, I don't find particularly easy to use!) I was able to find it gathering dust somewhere on my hard drive.

I was surprised to discover that it was a post I had made to CMUG's Mac Ministry e-mail list way back in 1998. When a question arose as to whether Accordance or the leading shareware program at the time was easier to use, some said Accordance, while others said the shareware program. It became clear to me that each group of users was describing different aspects of ease of use, so I tried to clarify the discussion by looking at those various aspects. This little treatise on ease of use needs to be edited and brought up to date, but I think you'll find it helpful and informative. Give me a day or two to clean it up, and I'll post it here.





Tuesday, July 17, 2007  

"Low Cost" Bible Software

Two years ago, when a Windows Bible software developer released a version of their software for Macintosh, I naturally purchased a copy in order to see what we had to fear from the new competition. While this program did a few things reasonably well, had a nice brushed-metal look, and offered some modern Bibles and reference works, it was otherwise everything I expected a Windows port to be: limited, clunky, and awkward to use. The unexpected side effect of buying this program was that I began receiving weekly e-mail offers, usually for their PC products!

Anyway, a few days ago I got an e-mail notice that was actually of interest: apparently their Mac product has now been upgraded. I dutifully went to their web-site to see what was added in an upgrade which has presumably been in development for the past two years. All I saw was a list of six items which struck me as reasonable improvements, but which absolutely paled in comparison to all the new features added in the last major upgrade to Accordance (not to mention the various free updates which followed it!).

Now, this competing Mac program (along with its corresponding Windows version) has always been billed as low-cost Bible study software, so perhaps it's unreasonable to expect its upgrades to be equivalent to those of Accordance. The cost for this upgrade? $29.95 to upgrade the base package, and $49.95 to upgrade the mid-level and top-level packages. Presumably, the additional twenty dollars to upgrade the upper-level packages is due to new material which has been added to these packages. I could see nothing which indicated which modules were new, but by comparing the modules I have with the modules listed in the new package, I found a half-dozen new modules in the mid-level package.

Now, we've never made the claim that Accordance is the low-cost leader in Bible software. We do try to keep our prices competitive, but we also believe that it's not unreasonable to charge for the features and modules we develop. How much do we charge to upgrade the Accordance program without adding any new modules? Twenty-nine dollars even. That's a much more substantial upgrade than you get with the other guys for nearly a dollar less! Even better, you can download the upgrade for the Accordance application without being forced to order a new CD-ROM and pay for new modules you may not want.

I realize that most of the readers of this blog have no objections to our upgrade prices, and price comparisons are not nearly as exciting as tips for how to use Accordance more effectively. Still, I think it helps to reinforce the fact that so-called "low-cost" Bible programs don't necessarily offer better value than you get with Accordance. Heck, sometimes they don't even offer lower prices!





Monday, July 16, 2007  

No More Pasting Search Arguments

The past couple of blog posts, I've been talking about the distinction between searching Greek and Hebrew texts for lexical forms (the dictionary form of the word as representative of all occurrences of the word no matter how it is inflected) and inflected forms (the specific form a word takes in a given passage). In tagged Greek and Hebrew texts, Accordance defaults to searching lexical forms. Thus, when you search for agapao in the GNT-T, Accordance returns all 143 occurrences of that lexeme. To search for a specific inflected form, such as agapeseis, you simply enter the form enclosed in quotation marks. In the last post, I explained that we make lexical forms the default because it is a much more common kind of search.

Yet this distinction between lexical and inflected forms sometimes leads to confusion. Most commonly, this happens when a user copies some Greek or Hebrew text, pastes it into the argument entry box, and clicks OK. The words as they appear in the text are inflected forms, but if they are entered without quotation marks, Accordance interprets them as lexical forms and gives an error message.

For example, if I copy the phrase me genoito in Romans 3:4 and paste it into the argument entry box, Accordance will recognize me as a valid lexical form, but genoito is not a valid lexical form, so Accordance will bring up the list of lexical forms so that you can pick the one you want. At this point, you can do one of two things. If you know genoito comes from the lexical form ginomai, you can choose ginomai from the list. This will find all occurrences of me followed by any inflection of ginomai (not just genoito). Another option is to cancel out of the Select lexical forms dialog box and enclose the search argument me genoito in quotes.

Whichever way you choose to get this pasted search to work, you've taken a lot of unnecessary steps. Here's a list of the steps involved:

  1. Select the text you want to find.
  2. Copy
  3. Select the contents of the argument entry box (hit the tab key to do this quickly)
  4. Paste
  5. Click OK (or hit Return)
  6. Choose a new lexical form from the list and click OK to dismiss the dialog.
  7. Click OK (or hit Return) to perform the search.

That's a lot of steps just to perform a simple search for something you see in the text, so let me show you a "more excellent way." Forget about copying and pasting text into the argument entry box of the Search window. Instead, select the text you want to find, then click the Search button at the bottom of the Resource palette. In case you're counting, that's just two steps, and the cool thing is that Accordance will automatically insert the lexical forms which correspond to the inflected forms you selected. Thus, if you select me genoito and click the Search button, Accordance will open a new Search window, insert me ginomai, and perform the search.

If you want to search for the specific inflection me genoito, you simply need to hold down the option key while clicking the Search button on the Resource palette. This will cause Accordance to open a new Search window, insert the inflected forms you selected, automatically enclose them in quotation marks, and perform the search. No muss, no fuss, no copying and pasting, and no error messages!

If you prefer to use contextual menus rather than clicking palette buttons, just control- or right-click on the word or phrase you want to find, and choose either Lemma (another word for "lexical form") or Inflected from the Search For submenu of the contextual menu.

By using either of these methods, you have Accordance do the work of inserting the right search syntax for you. This becomes expecially helpful when working in Hebrew, because Accordance will automatically account for any prefixes or suffixes you may have selected. Try it, and you'll never go back to copying and pasting search arguments in Accordance.

By the way, all of this is covered in painstaking detail (and with corresponding visuals) in the new Training DVD.





Friday, July 13, 2007  

Lexical Forms Controversy!

On Wednesday, I wrote about the distinction between searching lexical forms and inflected forms in Greek and Hebrew tagged texts. In response to that post, an anonymous commenter wrote that this is an example of bad interface design, primarily because users need to know whether or not they are searching a tagged or untagged text, and must adjust their searches accordingly. This user argued that a better design would be to make inflected forms the default search behavior, and then to require the user to do something explicit to search for lexical forms. This, he argues, would eliminate inconsistency and confusion when using the same search on both tagged and untagged texts.

It's a fair criticism, so let's consider it a moment. Let's set the issue of working with multiple texts aside for now, and consider what most users typically expect when working with a single text. Don't worry, we'll get to the multiple text issue in a moment.

Why do we make searching lexical forms the default behavior, and require you to enclose inflected forms in quotation marks? Because users are more likely to look for every occurrence of a word no matter how it is inflected than they are to look for a particular inflection. Let's say I'm a first-year Greek student and I've just learned that John 21 uses two different words for "love": agapao and phileo. I then fire up Accordance, open my GNT-T, enter agapao, and click OK. Since Accordance defaults to searching lexical forms, I get what I am looking for: all occurrences of agapao no matter how they are inflected. Were inflected forms the default, I would get an error message telling me the inflected form agapao does not exist in the Greek New Testament. "What do you mean agapao is not in the Greek New Testament?," I yell at the computer, "My Greek professor just spent a half-hour talking about it!"

The point of this hypothetical scenario is simply this: if you're more likely to want to do a lexical search rather than an inflected search, good interface design demands that you be able to do it without having to learn some complicated search syntax. Not only would such syntax confuse the new user, it would burden the experienced user with the hassle of having to do something extra to accomplish the kind of search he performs most often. Obviously, I use Accordance all the time, and I can't remember the last time I wanted to search for a specific inflected form. I certainly don't want that to be the default behavior.

Now, let's go back to our search for agapao and consider what happens when you switch to an untagged text. The user who raised this issue mentioned the NA27-GBS text, which is an untagged version of the Greek New Testament included on the German Bible Society's Mac Studienbibel CD-ROM. This package, which is published by GBS, contains the Greek and Hebrew critical apparatuses, along with untagged versions of the Greek and Hebrew texts containing the sigla (the little footnote symbols) which point to the apparatus. Thus, even though the NA27-GBS is untagged, it is useful to have displayed so that you can see the sigla marking the existence of variant readings.

Okay, so let's say I switch my search text from the GNT-T to the NA27-GBS with agapao still entered in the argument entry box. When I click OK to perform the search, I get an error message telling me agapao can't be found. That's because the NA27-GBS is untagged and so can only be searched by inflected form. As I understand it, this is the basis of our anonymous commenter's complaint. He is trying to use the same search on the same text (the Greek New Testament), but he gets a different result. The point that needs to be understood here is that not everything is the same: the NA27-GBS is a different module which lacks all the information contained in the GNT-T, so is it bad interface design that searching these different modules returns different results?

The simple solution to this alleged "inconsistency" is to avoid searching the more limited untagged text. If this user has both texts, he can confine his searches to the tagged GNT-T, and simply display the NA27-GBS in a parallel pane so that he can see the sigla. Like this:

I can see no reason why one might want to search the NA27-GBS separately from the GNT-T, but if you really want the NA27-GBS to be displayed in a separate window or tab and you want to see the search hits highlighted in the text of the NA27-GBS itself, there is a way to do it: use the HITS command to display the results of GNT-T searches in the text of the NA27-GBS.

In the screenshot above, I have a tab containing my search for agapao in the GNT-T. I then have a second tab containing the NA27-GBS. In that tab, I have entered the HITS command to join the two tabs. That way, the results of every search I do in the GNT-T are displayed in the NA27-GBS! The HITS command lets me leverage the tagging of the GNT-T to search the untagged NA27-GBS.

That, of course, is a fairly sophisticated set-up, and hardly what most users are going to want. But the capability is there for power users who want to search untagged texts.

After twelve years of helping to develop Accordance, I've learned that good interface design, like all forms of engineering, is a balancing act. Ultimately, you have to make choices based on what most users will do most of the time. Inevitably, some users will find those choices frustrating or confusing—particularly if they are used to another way of doing things. In many cases, user's complaints and suggestions can help us to see places where our interface choices have been wrong—instances where most users do things we didn't necessarily anticipate. In other cases, we remain convinced that we've made the right choice and we ask the user to adjust to those choices. Even then, where we are able, we look for ways to make that adjustment as painless as possible. In my next post, I'll show you an easy way to avoid the confusion which arises when a user copies an inflected form from the text, pastes it into the argument entry box, and then gets an error message because Accordance defaults to searching lexical rather than inflected forms.





Wednesday, July 11, 2007  

Lexical Forms, Inflected Forms, and Cantillation, Oh My!

An Accordance user recently blogged about a Hebrew search he tried to do in Accordance that didn't get him the results he expected. He was looking at a Qumran fragment which supposedly contained a quote from the Bible, and wanted to find that quotation by searching the Hebrew Bible in Accordance for a sequence of letters contained in the fragment. Using wildcard symbols and a search command, he constructed the following search:

Basically, he wanted to find a word ending in either shin-tav or sin-tav, followed by another word beginning with tav. There are a number of ways he could have constructed this search, but the way he chose should have worked just fine.

When he performed the search, however, Accordance only returned two results, even though he was aware of others that should have been found. In looking at some of the clear examples which got missed, he noted the presence of certain cantillation marks which he assumed were throwing off the search. So he asked the readers of his blog how to get Accordance to ignore the cantillation marks and just do a consonantal search.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned here:

  • First, know where to get help. If you want an answer to a question about Accordance, you're better off turning to the Accordance Forums rather than to the blogosphere in general. Most of the comments on this user's blog post amounted to something along the lines of, "I'm a PC user who doesn't know anything about Accordance, but . . ."
  • Second, even power-users make mistakes. I point this out to make you first-year Hebrew students feel better that you're not the only ones who get confused. Professors and power-users sometimes do, too.
  • Third, it's important to understand the distinction between lexical forms and inflected forms.
  • The reason this search failed to find every occurrence of that string of letters had nothing to do with vowel pointing or cantillation marks. Accordance ignores those marks unless you specifically indicate that you want them to be considered. The real reason he didn't get the results he expected was that he was searching for lexical forms when he really should have been searching for inflected forms.

    By "Lexical form" (or sometimes "lemma"), we mean the dictionary form of the word as representative of all forms of the word. For example, if you enter beth-resh-aleph in the Search window and click OK, Accordance will find all occurrences of the Hebrew word bara, no matter what particular inflected form it happens to take (yivra, barati, etc.). This would be like searching for "run" in English and finding "runs," "running, "ran," etc.

    In Accordance, if you want to find a particular inflected form of a word, you need to enter that form and enclose it in quotation marks. Here's how I would search for the inflected form yivra:

    If I were to enter this form without the quotes, Accordance would look for a lexical form with the spelling yodh-beth-resh-aleph, and give me an error message if no such lexical form exists.

    It's important to understand that inflected forms are the words as you see them in the text, while lexical forms represent every form of the word. Beginning users will sometimes try to copy an inflected form from the text, paste it into the argument entry box, and then wonder why they get an error message telling them no such lexical form can be found.

    In the same way, the user searching for a phrase from a Qumran fragment entered the text as it appeared in the fragment (inflected forms), but because he did not enclose the phrase in quotes, Accordance assumed he was searching for lexical forms. Here's how his search should have looked:

    By the way, the reason this user entered two phrases and joined them with an OR command is that he wanted to find words containing either a sin or a shin. Did you know that typing shift-C in Accordance's Hebrew font will enter an unpointed sin/shin character? Thus, a simpler way to enter this search would be like this:

    In this post, I've talked at length about the distinction between lexical and inflected forms. Understanding this simple distinction, and knowing that Accordance defaults to searching for lexical forms, will help you avoid confusion when constructing Hebrew searches. (This distinction is also important when searching Greek texts, but for some reason, users seem more likely to get confused when working with Hebrew.)





    Tuesday, July 10, 2007  

    Lonely in Ljubljana or Vacant in Vienna?

    A couple of lovely ladies hope to see you in these romantic locations, seriously!

    We will be showing Accordance at the book exhibits at ISBL in Vienna, Austria, and at IOSOT in Ljubljana, Slovenia along with the following specialty meetings: IOTS, IOSCS, IOQS, IOMS, BEP, and ISLP.

    If you are attending these meetings, please come to our table to introduce yourself and see what's new. Please also tell others at the meetings that it is worth their while to take a look at Accordance. Ditto if you know a colleague who is coming. We hope to be busy, not lonely and vacant, but it is largely up to you, our faithful users.





    Monday, July 09, 2007  

    What to Expect When You Triple-Click

    In my last post, I mentioned that I'll triple-click a Greek or Hebrew word to look it up in my default Greek or Hebrew lexicons. That elicited the following comment:

    If I triple-click some word in NAS95S, let's say, Bethany, NAS Greek opens. But the first dictionary I've set in the list is NIDNTT. Why Accordance doesn't open this word in NIDNTT, I'd prefer this dictionary... Every time I triple-click, I have to change dictionaries.

    The disparity between what I described in my post and what the user described in his comment is due to the fact that we're each triple-clicking a different kind of word. I spoke about triple-clicking a Greek or Hebrew word, while he spoke about triple-clicking an English word in a Bible text tagged with Strong's Numbers.

    Triple-clicking is designed to open those resources which are most appropriate to the kind of text triple-clicked:

  • If you triple-click a Greek word, Accordance will open the default Greek lexicon.
  • If you triple-click a Hebrew word, Accordance will open the default Hebrew lexicon.
  • If you triple-click an English word in a text without Key Numbers, Accordance will open the default English tool.
  • If you triple-click a verse reference, Accordance will open the default Reference tool (commentary, cross-reference, etc.).
  • If you triple-click a word in an English text with Key Numbers, Accordance will search the corresponding Strong's Dictionary.
  • Thus, triple-clicking a word in the NAS New Testament will open the NAS Greek dictionary; triple-clicking a word in the NIV-G/K Old Testament will open the NIV Hebrew Dictionary, etc. Since the KJVS, NAS95S, and the NIV-G/K all use slightly different numbering systems, Accordance opens the dictionary which corresponds to the text you're in, regardless of how you have your Greek or Hebrew tools arranged.

    We do this because it is what most users of key-numbered Bible texts want most of the time, especially given the fact that they may not have more in-depth lexicons like NIDNTT or BDAG. Obviously, it's not what every user wants every time. The user who posted the comment above obviously wants to go directly from the English word to his favorite Greek lexicon. I sometimes find myself triple-clicking an English word in a key-numbered Bible and wanting to go to my default English tool (Anchor Bible Dictionary) rather than to the Strong's dictionary. The good news is that he and I can get around the link between a Bible text with key numbers and its corresponding Strong's dictionary. The "bad" news is that we can't do it by triple-clicking.

    To go from a key-numbered Bible to my default English tool, I need to double-click the word to select it, then click the English Tools button on the Resource palette. It's not quite as convenient as triple-clicking, but then I'm wanting something other than the default behavior.

    To go from a key-numbered Bible to my default Greek or Hebrew tool, I need only select a word, hold down the option key, and click either the Greek or Hebrew Tools button on the Resource palette. This tells Accordance to search those tools not for the English word I selected, but for the Greek or Hebrew word which corresponds to the Strong's number attached to that word. Again, it's not quite as convenient as triple-clicking, but I'm wanting to do something other than the default.

    For those who don't want to go to the Resource palette, another option might be to triple-click the English word to open the Greek or Hebrew Strong's dictionary, and then to triple-click the Greek or Hebrew word in that dictionary to look it up in a more in depth lexicon. Depending on how fast you can click, this two-step approach might be faster than holding down the option key and going to the palette. Another approach might be to keep a pane open displaying the Greek or Hebrew text, and triple-click those words directly.

    In the next version of Accordance, we may allow you to triple-click a word in a key-numbered text to go to your default Greek or Hebrew lexicon, but until then, what I've described above is what you can expect when you triple-click.





    Friday, July 06, 2007  

    Teaching with Accordance, Continued

    Yesterday I talked about some of the strategies I use when teaching with Accordance. I explained that my basic set-up is a single Search window displaying the entire text of the Bible, with parallel panes containing the Greek or Hebrew text, commentaries, and/or my own notes—depending on my needs for that particular class. Even if I don't set all those panes up ahead of time, it is such an easy thing to add a pane when the need arises that I rarely look like I'm scrambling for an answer (even when I am!).

    When I need to do a quick word search, I'll do one of two things. If I'm searching for a word in the passage I'm teaching from, I'll simply select it and click the Search button on the Resource palette. That, of course, will open a new tab displaying every occurrence of that word. If the word I want to search for is not in the passage I'm teaching from, I'll simply duplicate my Search window using the keyboard shortcut command-D, switch to searching for Words, and then enter the word I want to find. It's not as slick as amplifying a selection, but even that is quick and easy to do, and sometimes it's faster than looking for a word to select.

    If I need to look up a word in a Greek or Hebrew lexicon, I will, of course, simply triple-click it. Since I have BDAG at the top of my list of Greek Tools and HALOT at the top of my list of Hebrew tools, I get my preferred lexicons whenever I triple-click. If I want to switch to another lexicon like NIDNTT or NIDOTTE, I can simply select the lexicon I want from the top left pop-up menu of the tool window containing BDAG or HALOT. Better still, I can use the keyboard shortcut control-plus to cycle to the next lexicon and hit return to perform the search.

    The convenience of Accordance's various amplify features and the automatic syncing of parallel panes makes it easy for me to get additional information about a passage of study, a word in that passage, etc. That ready access to information saves me time when I'm researching and preparing ahead of time, but it also gives me the flexibility while teaching to go in a direction I didn't necessarily plan on going. That enables me to encourage class discussion and participation, rather than squelching any such discussion which threatens to lead the class away from the lesson I've already prepared.

    Another nice thing about the amplify features of Accordance is that they open a new window, rather than overwriting the material in the window I'm amplifying from. That way, I can branch out to other resources from my main text window, without ever having to worry about losing my place. Once I've engaged the class discussion and am ready to return to my prepared lesson, I just switch back to my main tab and pick up where I left off!

    In this post and the previous one, I've talked about how to use Accordance as an aid in teaching. Basically, I'll have my laptop in front of me and be using Accordance to access information which I then relay to the class. In most cases, they're not actually seeing what I'm doing. In the next post in this series, I'll talk about situations where I'll use a projector to show them information directly from within Accordance. In such cases, I'm not just using Accordance as a teaching aid, but as a visual aid.





    Thursday, July 05, 2007  

    Teaching with Accordance

    I have a confession to make. I was never much for doing my homework. I always did pretty well in classes which let me just show up, take the tests, and write the papers; but in those classes which gave you "free points" for turning in tedious busy work, I always seemed to struggle. These days, I'm no longer taking classes, but I am leading a couple of Bible studies, and I'm afraid I still don't do all the homework I should before showing up for class.

    The one saving grace is that I use Accordance in teaching, so I often look like I've spent many hours doing research. Here are a few of the strategies I use in teaching with Accordance.

    First, I'll set up a search window in Verse Mode with an asterisk entered in the argument entry box. This means that the entire text of the Bible is displayed. I'll then enter the passage I'll be teaching from into the Go To Box at the bottom right corner of the window. This automatically scrolls the text to that passage, but enables me to quickly scroll to any other part of the Bible if I suddenly need to look up other passages. For more on this strategy, see the blog entry Getting to the Verse You Want.

    Depending on the passage and whether or not I feel the need to talk about the original text, I may open a parallel pane containing the Hebrew Bible or the Greek New Testament. That way, I can easily see the Greek or Hebrew words behind the English, and, with the help of the Instant Details Box, parse them on the fly. Even if I didn't intend to get into the original text, if the class discussion demands it, it is a simple matter to add a pane containing the Greek or Hebrew and find the answer I need.

    By the way, I only discuss the Greek and Hebrew text in a Sunday School class or Bible Study when I feel I absolutely have to. The last thing I want to do is give the impression that I have access to some secret knowledge that the other members of the class can't get with a good English translation. But when difficult questions arise and the original text needs to be examined, I think it is helpful for them to see me work through the text for purposes of exegesis. With Accordance, I can do that quickly and easily without getting bogged down or dragging the class to a screeching halt.

    Another strategy I'll use is to open a commentary in a parallel reference pane. Again, I usually only do this when a question arises which I can't answer with confidence. Turning to a good commentary at those points can usually help me find a satisfactory answer without just speculating wildly.

    When I do prepare notes ahead of time, I'll either place them in a User Notes file (if I'm teaching through a passage) or I'll create a User Tool containing my class outline and main points. I'll then display the User Notes in a parallel pane beside the text, or I'll keep a tab open with my User Tool. Either way, I can quickly consult my notes if I get stuck.

    So far, I've basically just suggested that you view the text in Accordance and use parallel panes to keep the original text, commentaries, and notes readily available. I'll talk about some other strategies in upcoming posts. The main thing I hope you can see at this point is that Accordance is useful for getting quick answers and additional information on the fly. No matter how much or little you do your homework in preparation to teach, if you allow any kind of class discussion, you can bet that at some point the conversation will go in a direction you didn't anticipate. At those times, Accordance can enable you to "fly by the seat of your pants" and look good doing it.





    Tuesday, July 03, 2007  

    Land of the Free Module

    Ever need to look up the exact wording of the First Amendment or want to see the context of Jefferson's famous statement about the "separation of church and state"? If so, you'll appreciate the new American Heritage module we've posted for free download just in time for July 4th.

    This module contains landmark documents relating to America's Governmental and Cultural Heritage. Government documents include the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the remaining Constitutional Amendments. Historical and Cultural Works include Thomas Paine's Common Sense, Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists, the lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner, and Lincoln's Gettysburg address.





    Monday, July 02, 2007  

    I Keep Wanting Auto-Scroll in Other Programs

    One of my favorite features of Accordance 7 is the auto-scroll feature, which lets you have the text of a window scroll slowly and smoothly much like a teleprompter. To use this feature, go to Preferences, select the Appearance Preferences, and then change the pop-up menu labeled "Auto scrolling" from Off to your desired scrolling speed (mine is set to Medium).

    From that point on, any time you hold down the command key while clicking the up or down scroll arrows of a window, that window will begin scrolling automatically. To stop the auto-scrolling, just click the mouse button again.

    I use this feature all the time. When I'm reading the Bible to my kids, I just have the text auto-scroll as I read. When I was working on the Video Training DVD, I created a User Tool containing my script so that I could auto-scroll the text while recording the audio segments.

    Lately I've found myself wishing other applications had this feature. When I'm reading a long article on the web or a Pages document, I keep command-clicking the down scroll arrow and expecting the text to start scrolling automatically. Oh well, maybe I can lobby Apple to make automatic scrolling a system-wide feature. Until then, be sure to give it a try in Accordance.