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2 Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Manuals, Handbooks, and Online Documents

A hypertext form of a voluminous dictionary such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) will not only help find meanings for words but also help us manage our daily knowledge work better [Raymond & Tompa, 1988]. In addition to browsing, complex queries can be built and intelligent searches can be performed. That is, users typically refer to dictionaries as part of more extended tasks. Improved navigation and IR mechanisms will greatly assist the information gathering process. Since much of the OED is made of quotations, links can be directly established to the source of the quotation or to other texts.

The field of medicine requires immediate evaluation and treatment of most ailments. Many a times, physicians have to recall general approaches to diagnosis and treatment of a particular ailment based on their previous experience with other patients. They have to retrieve previous medical records of patients, literature on the subject published in a journal, notes from another colleague etc. Such associations of material from diverse sources can be made easily accessible by using hypertext based information systems. Washington University developed the Dynamic Medical Handbook to provide immediate and easy access to medical information to medical professionals [Frisse, 1988]. Chapters from the Manual of Medical Therapeutics were converted to hypertext format. The handbook combined traditional IR mechanisms with browsing techniques to improve information retrieval. Such dynamic medical books, also called “hyperbooks” are widely used in medical schools. These hyperbooks can be integrated with medical media such as X-rays, CT images, MRI images, Charts, and Graphs into a medical “hyperlibrary”. Such a system can help collaborative work in medicine where physicians, radiologists, and surgeons can diagnose and suggest treatments over a distributed hypermedia network with telepointing, annotation etc.

Users tend not to read printed manuals since finding the relevant information is cumbersome. Hypertext systems are the obvious choice for providing online documentation since they enable easy and flexible ways of accessing only relevant information. Online documentation can be combined with online help, tutorials, and error recovery. For example, an error message can be linked to some help text which can elaborate on the problem – why it occurred and how it can be remedied. Nielsen calls such online assistance as integrated user assistance [Nielsen, 1990d].

Incorporating hypermedia in documentation allows document designers and users to create an unlimited number of independent contexts or perspectives over the same hypertext network, each constructed for a different category of users [Maurer & Tomek, 1990]. Such tailorable tutorials or views can cater to novices as well as experts using the same corpus of material. This eliminates duplication of the material for different audiences.