I've been searching everywhere I know for research concerning the topics listed below, but have been unable to find anything specific. The best I can come up with is general literature. Specifically I am looking for research on the following subjects:

  1. The effects of feedback on an artifact given in-context of artifact versus out-of-context, and the reasons behind designing UIs that support either. A concrete example is feedback on a report; why would one choose to provide functionality for writing feedback in the report margins (in-context, e.g as when commenting PDF documents) instead of in a separate document (out-of-context)?

  2. Context switches in workflows and why they are bad/good in general; why do we want to avoid them in user workflows (and do we?).

  3. Related to 2: theory supporting integration of related workflows into a single computer supported workflow. A concrete example is Microsoft Word which has a feature to edit images inside the application itself even though it is a word processor. Why is this preferable compared to e.g. editing the image in an external application and inserting it afterward? And is it (always)? Are there special cases where it may be counter-productive?

I was advised to post these questions here as part of my broader focus on feedback on COGSCI SE: https://cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/5763/research-on-properties-of-effective-feedback

  • 1
    Point 1 relates to the placement of error messages in forms. The internet is full of articles that say it's best practice to put error messages next to the input field the error occurred at. It reduces cognitive load and is less confusing for users. I know this because I've read it, but I can't find any data supporting this. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 10:43

2 Answers 2


I think you can start with Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning from Richard Mayer and Roxana Moreno.

This paper presents a simple model for how the brain works, and what causes information overloading.

One relevant detail is their definition of mental processing. They divide processing in three categories:

  • essential - making sense of what's being presented.
  • incidental - processing that you need to make to interpret the materials, but don't contribute directly to understanding them.
  • holding representation - hold the concepts in working memory, to be able to understand how they relate.

To minimize the cognitive load necessary to learn something, you want to create materials and explanations that allow users to do lots of essential processing, while avoiding incidental processing and representation holding.

That's why it's preferable to present feedback on the side of a report, since it lets users focus on the feedback, and don't have to waste processing time in holding representations (going back and forward mapping the feedback to the original report).

The authors have lots of published works, so if you find this paper interesting, just follow its references, and other publications from the same authors.

Hope I've pointed you in the right direction.


re: Point 1

If in relation to error messages in forms, please see my answer for this question:

Does a tooltip require close button?

I have posted my sources there as well.

re: Point 2-3

PROs: From a development standpoint because then you have tools that are specialized in nature. Adobe does this with their suite of tools.

CONS: It is not an efficient workflow because files may not traverse between applications smoothly.

Example: You need to export it, save it somewhere. Find it again in primary app, then import.

It is the same reason why external links open in a new window so there is an indication to the user that they are leaving the site to view external information.

You want to avoid this if you wish to keep the appearance for users that they are still in the same application. Keeping the user oriented is a priority.

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