Designing a Readable E-book

Ruth Wilson
Eboni Research Assistant
Centre for Digital Library Research, University of Strathclyde
16 Richmond Street, Glasgow G11KQ, U K.


Describes the Electronic Books On-screen Interface (Eboni) research project funded under the JiscDNER programme for Learning and Teaching at the CDLR, University of Strathclyde, UK. It aims to develop a set of recommendations for publishing educational works on the Web and finalise the guidelines by December 2001/ January 2002 and subsequently make them available on the Web. Outlines the four phases of the methodology comprising selection of material, selection of participants, experimental phase and measurement of results. Also discusses user involvement and accessibility.

KEYWORDS: Electronic books On-screen interface; Eboni; E-book.


The Internet is a popular platform for publication of learning and teaching resources. Students are now using this as a primary tool to search for any study material. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) for curriculum delivery is increasing and improving the flow of course material to students.

Morkes and Nielsen [1] demonstrated that the user's ability to retrieve information from the Web publication can be improved by up to 159 % by altering the on-screen design of the text. The internal design of the resources should be such that once accessed, the required data can be retrieved as quickly and easily as possible. By applying the guidelines for best practice in respect of on-screen design the usability of existing and future electronic books could be improved.

Eboni (Electronic Books On-screen Interface) is a research project funded under the JiscDNER (Distributed National Electronic Resources) programme for Learning and Teaching at the Centre for Digital Library Research, University of Strathclyde. It aims to develop a set of recommendations for publishing educational works on the Web that reflects the need of the academics and diverse population of students throughout the UK. The final set of best practice guidelines for producing educational material on the Web is expected by December 2001/ January 2002 and will be made available from the project Web site. The work will be carried out along with the Strathclyde University's Digital Information Officer, which aims to develop and promote standards in this area, the inter-institutional Clyde Virtual University Project, and jointly create and manage electronic material across Glasgow and other national grid for learning in Scotland.


These guidelines will be applied to texts on portable e-book readers and a palmtop, to determine their applicability to small screens of hand-held devices.


The set of guidelines that emerges from the evaluation process is to encourage the use of those styles and techniques that are found to be most successful in terms of usability and not intended to establish a strict uniformity of interface for all learning and teaching resources on the Web .


Eboni will conduct a survey of the range of teaching material available on the Internet, select key texts that represent various subject areas and design techniques, develop a methodology for evaluating these texts, implement this methodology using HE (Higher education) students and education professionals as subjects, and analyse the results producing a set of guidelines for best practice in publishing educational material online. A detailed methodology for Eboni will be available at the project Web site. There are four main phases:-

Selection of material.

A survey of the range of teaching material available on the Internet will be conducted, identifying, classifying and finally selecting resources according to use of techniques such as Hypertext, Table of contents, Navigation icons, Search mechanisms, Indexes, Graphics and Specific features of HTML.

Selection of participants

It is anticipated that 80-100 paid subjects will be used to evaluate these texts, mainly drawn from the HE population at the three universities in Glasgow.

Experimental phase

All users will be involved in both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the experiment:

Quantitative feedback will be sought by asking users to search selected material for specific information and to participate in memory tasks. Success in answering questions correctly, time taken to complete tasks, ability to recall information and (depending on facilities available) covert observation of user's behaviour will be taken into account in interpreting this feedback.

Qualitative feedback will be sought via questionnaires and interviews immediately following the quantitative phase, and will aim to record user's subjective satisfaction with the experience of reading the material. Consideration will also be given to employing think -aloud techniques to record users' thoughts as they read and use the texts.

A literature review of the requirements of students and academics on the Web will form the basis of this experiment, which will be refined once it is piloted on a small group of subjects.

Measurement of results

Both quantitative and qualitative feedback from tasks, questionnaires and interviews will be analysed to determine the overall usability of each text, and this analysis will form the basis of the guidelines for the design of learning and teaching material on the Internet. Data will also be analysed on a comparative basis, to identify differences between the needs of the representative user groups participating in the experiment.

The methodology used to evaluate the usability of selected texts will be piloted on a small group of around ten subjects. This will enable the project team to identify and fix any problems with the experiment before the full-scale evaluation begins.


The user communities i.e. students in each of the subject selected in Phase 1 of the methodology ( including undergraduates, postgraduates, mature students and distance and part-time learners, education professionals including lecturers and tutors and professionals from the National Grid for Learning) will be directly involved in the experimental phase of the project. Ensuring not only that there needs are assessed but also that they form the basis of the set of recommendations produced at the end of the project.


Eboni's recommendations for publishing learning and teaching material on the Web will accord with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 which explain how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities, and the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative's User Agent Guidelines 1.0, DISinHE and the Towel Project which aims to find solutions to problems encountered by both visually impaired and sighted users when using the Web.


At the time of writing, Eboni has just entered its fourth month. During this time a Project Manager, Director and Research Assistant have been appointed and begun work, a Steering Committee and Management Group have been established, the project plan has been drafted in full and the project Web site has been set up at Eboni welcomes feedback at all stages and interested parties are invited to join the project mailing list by sending an email to


1. Morkes and Neilson. Applying writing guidelines to Web pages 1998.

-- Forwarded by Kamini Mishra,

Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 2001, p.7-p.8