Consider how many prefer to dive in and use concrete markup in Word rather than define styles which could then be universally applied.
There'll always be a difference between those who can think something through in the abstract first, maybe code it / define mathematical equations and those who need to work with the concrete first and then extend / abstract out.
And it seems like, however much we computer scientists find it dumb, users will want to work by making concrete examples of things first, then extending them. Some of them NEVER want to move to the level of abstraction, but are happy with complex, intricate webs of concrete instances and copyings. (Look at Director or Flash programming by graphic designers)
For me the most important factor here is interactivity - abstract things lack on interactivity because of the intermediate steps.
Guess what Phil - I'm going to disagree with you again :-)
I'd argue that users are bad at using styles in Word because the UI for creating styles in Word sucks. Look at the number of steps you have to go through to define styles compared to the number of steps you have to go through to make a piece of text bold.
Also consider the utility of Word styles most Word users. Is the extra effort involved really going to help them write that office memo more quickly?
Users don't find abstraction hard.
Those very users who find using styles in Word difficult find it very easy to cut up their documents into sections and chapters.
If you look at a graphic designer using a Illustrator and Photoshop they happily define styles all of the time.
Look at the popularity of outlining / mind-mapping tools. User tools whose entire purpose is helping people create abstractions.
: / And it seems like, however much we computer scientists find it dumb, users will want to work by making concrete examples of things first, then extending them. /
That doesn't sound dumb to me. That sounds like an excellent idea - and is exactly what I do when I'm doing XP. Start with the simplest thing that can possibly work, then extend and refactor abstractions as they become necessary.
Well guess what. I actually do agree with you (sort of) :-)
In fact I was quite surprised by your criticism because I'd forgotton what I wrote here. Compare what I say on WikiAsTheUltimateUserConfigurableApplication :
*Someone (looking for link) recently pointed out users don't like to configure software for themselves. They almost always live with the pre-sets. I think this isn't because they don't want to configure, but because configuration is too hard. In particular there's a separation between using and configuring. Configuring (however allegedly simple) is conceptually separate. You need to think more abstractly about what you want to do and UsersFindAbstractionHard. *
I don't entirely agree, because I think abstract thinking and generalization is a bit harder than thinking concretely. But I agree it isn't too hard for 99% of users. The far bigger problem is simply that tools don't support the transition from ConcreteToAbstract well. (Compare our discussion over on AnEasyInterface) That's true at both the level of Word for office memos, and the failings of IDEs for software developers. For example can you recommend AGoodIDE / RefactoringBrowser that helps XP?
: Java folk seem quite happy with Eclipse, and of course there's Smalltalk's original RefactoringBrowser
A couple of more specific points :
*Those very users who find using styles in Word difficult find it very easy to cut up their documents into sections and chapters. *
Is Modularizing the same as Abstract thinking? My initial reaction was "huh? what's the connection?" but maybe I'm missing something. I'm open to persuasion.
: Think about the process of writing. Don't you use section/chapter headings as higher level descriptions of the content that you'll be writing later? Can't you get a good idea of the content of a book by skimming the chapter/section headings?
Look at the popularity of outlining / mind-mapping tools
:I was thinking more about the way the tool was used rather than what it was sold for. I'd put Word's outline-view as a more popular tool than PowerPoint for outlining :-)
Recently I've been wondering DoesAbstractionScale?