Exploring user/webtext interactions: An examination of gender and sex differences in web use
Bowie, Jennifer Lynn
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Online texts are an increasingly common part of the classroom and the world at large. As web use increases in education, industry, and home/private use, few people critically examine the impact of such texts, especially with regard to gender equality, design, and use. As a result, there is a lack of research examining sex and/or gender differences in how people use webtexts and a deficit of design and development research methods that consider se\/gender differences. However, technical communicators, in order to create truly user-centered design, must understand and consider sex and/or gender differences in specific web use. My research provides an in-depth examination of sex (biological) and gender (cultural) differences and similarities in the use of webtexts. The research includes quantitative data, like time to begin and complete tasks, and qualitative data, like open-ended interview responses and observations of users completing tasks. 1 analyzed navigation; orientation; back button use; task completion success rate; time to begin and complete tasks; attitudes towards browsing, searching, and surfing; and the frequency of surfing and site loyalty, along with how differences in these areas compare to previous research on sex/gender differences. 1 found sex differences in navigation; orientation; and the enjoyment and preferences of browsing, searching, and surfing. 1 found gender differences in navigation; orientation; time to begin and complete tasks; and the ease of browsing. 1 also found similarities across the two sexes and four genders in back button use and success rate. Some of my findings closely correlate to previous research, but other findings, like the initial navigation methods used by males and females, provide an interesting contrast to previous research. My analysis of sex and/or gender differences in web use illustrates not only that significant differences do exist, but also provides a foundation for web designers to create webtexts that respond to the actual ways the different sexes and genders use websites. My research has implications for web design, for user-centered design methods, for technical communication, for feminist research and gender studies, and for education. With this research study, and with future studies on differences and similarities among our users, technical communicators can begin to develop and understand the full universe of users and create website designs that are truly users-centered.