Prompt comprehension in UNIX command production

Stephanie M. Doane, Danielle S. McNamara, Walter Kintsch, Peter G. Polson, Deborah M. Clawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We hypothesize that a cognitive analysis based on the construction-integration theory of comprehension (Kintsch, 1988) can predict what is difficult about generating complex composite commands in the UNIX operating system. We provide empirical support for assumptions of the Doane, Kintsch, and Poison (1989, 1990) construction-integration model for generating complex commands in UNIX. We asked users whose UNIX experience varied to produce complex UNIX commands, and then provided help prompts whenever the commands that they produced were erroneous. The help prompts were designed to assist subjects with respect to both the knowledge and the memory processes that our UNIX modeling efforts have suggested are lacking in less expert users. It appears that experts respond to different prompts than do novices. Expert performance is helped by the presentation of abstract information, whereas novice and intermediate performance is modified by presentation of concrete information. Second, while presentation of specific prompts helps less expert subjects, they do not provide sufficient information to obtain correct performance. Our analyses suggest that information about the ordering of commands is required to help the less expert with both knowledge and memory load problems in a manner consistent with skill acquisition theories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-343
Number of pages17
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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