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News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Thursday, December 14, 2006  

New in 7.1: Construct Window Searches Both Directions

Until Apple released the Mighty Mouse, one of the biggest objections PC users had to using a Mac was that its mouse had only one button. What they didn't realize was that when Apple was developing the Mac, they experimented with two- and three-button mice and rejected them as being too confusing to new computer users. Pointing and tapping with the index finger is something we all do every day—regardless of whether or not we've ever touched a computer—so anyone could learn to point and click a one-button mouse very quickly.

Windows PCs showed that regular people could be trained to use a two-button mouse, especially when the second button always had a consistent behavior: namely, calling up a contextual menu. Ironically, Windows' generally poorly designed interface contributed to users learning to use a right mouse button, since the contextual menus became one of the few consistent ways to discover and access new features.

I bring this up to demonstrate that sometimes limiting an interface helps to make it more intuitive, because it avoids confusion and operator error. I've talked before about the difference between Accordance's Construct window, which is a fairly linear graphical framework for constructing searches, and the much more free-form graphical search engines of some Windows Bible programs. In that blog entry, I argued that the more free-form approach was much harder to follow and made it much easier for the user to create logically-impossible searches.

While the Construct window's simplicity makes it easier to use than other alternatives, there are times when its limitations can be, well ... limiting. The most common example is when you want to find a construction where word order is unimportant. In other words, if you wanted to find two items (A and B) with a certain relationship to each other, but you aren't concerned about whether the word order is AB or BA, you would have to create TWO Construct windows and join them with an OR command. It wasn't difficult to do, but it did involve a number of additional steps.

For example, I once constructed a search where word order was not a concern, and it took me 26 steps to complete. No less than eight of those steps involved creating a second construct window to avoid the word order issue. When we looked at this usability issue in such clearly quantifiable terms, we decided we needed to find an easier way.

But how to do it without losing more than we gained? If we completely removed the word order specificity of the Construct window we would end up with a free-form system which would have all the problems the other programs have, and we would force the user to go through additional steps to have word order considered. This is not a big deal when you're searching for two items, but what about when you define a construct with 3 or more words? Do you allow the possibility of finding ABC, ACB, BAC, BCA, CAB, and CBA? At what point does this kind of system get too confusing to understand and so broad as to become meaningless?

Our solution was to add a simple way to have Accordance search for the elements of a construct in both directions, but with the order of the columns still being considered. Thus, if you define a construct with three items (A, B, and C), then click the new Search both directions checkbox, Accordance will find either ABC or CBA, but not all of the other possible combinations.

The Construct pictured above will search the Greek New Testament for any proper name, the verb agapao, and a Pronoun which is not in the same case as the Proper name. Since Search both directions is checked, it will also find constructions where the Pronoun comes before the Proper Name. In every case, however, agapao will appear between the Name and the Pronoun.

In this way, we've greatly reduced the number of steps necessary to perform flexible searches like this, while keeping the Construct window simple enough for the user to get his or her mind around. It's a little like creating a mouse which can function as a one-button mouse for the computer novice, or a multi-button mouse for those who want the added flexibility.


"I bring this up to demonstrate that sometimes limiting an interface helps to make it more intuitive, because it avoids confusion and operator error."

The key element of this last sentence is sometimes. One of the things that I found frustrating about Accordance is that it seems to be developed without this "sometimes" in mind. Although I appreciate the simple interface, limiting what is available through the interface actually can make an application less intuitive.

For example, which is more intuitive - holding down the option button while searching a word or simply selecting the appropriate option from a contextual menu? This has repeatedly been a frustration for me. I like menus, but Accordance likes strange key combinations... ;-)



Uh, Jeremy, are you using Accordance 7, or some earlier version of Accordance? Contextual menus were added to Accordance in version 7 and have been available since May, so if you prefer contextual menus, you can right-click or control-click away. Or am I misunderstanding something you're wanting?


No, you're correct. I have loved the new menus and am very thankful for them. I work significantly faster with them. I just happen to think they could be expanded a bit to include other options as well.



I'm not sure I completely understand... Why is it not possible to have a radio button that simply turns word order on or off as a factor in the search?

Over time , you have published some great construct tips and examples on the blog. Would you consider bundling them all together and publishing them as "David's Favorite Constructs" or something like that.
I don't use constructs every day. In fact, sometimes weeks go by and then I really need a construct to do something and I find myself guessing on things I have forgotten. A simple reference would be invaluable. Perhaps it could be linked in the Help Viewer


It seems like they could have three radio buttons to make it easy:

-One direction
-Both directions
-Ignore word order

The user would just have to select which one is relevant to the search, and since they would be radio buttons, only one could be selected at a time.

The only difficulty is, as David pointed out, ignoring word order allows the user to construct illogical searches unwittingly.

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