A review on error-inclusive approaches to software documentation and training

Hans van der Meij*, Marie Louise Flacke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: There is a need for error information in software documentation and training. Audits show that this need is typically not sufficiently addressed. This article addresses the issues of how and why errors should be part of design. Method: A literature review summarizes what research has to say about the design and effectiveness of error-inclusive software documentation and training. Results: Three main types of error-inclusive approaches are distinguished: (1) In an error-tolerant approach, error prevention is important, as is the presence of error information when needed. Minimalism is one representation of this approach. Minimalist theory proposes a training wheels technique to prevent error and just-in-time error information to support error management. (2) In an error-induced approach, the training arrangement almost guarantees that users engage in error handling during training. Its best-known representation is Error Management Training (EMT). Key features of EMT are the arrangement of an exploratory mode of task engagement during training and the communication that errors are opportunities for learning. (3) In an error-guided training (GET) approach, regular and corrective instructions are mixed. The main idea is that uses benefit from instructions for task completion that alternate between expositions of correct and incorrect solution methods. Research on error-inclusive approaches shows that the training tends to be slightly less efficient but that, after training, users are better at performing regular tasks and have learned more error-management skills. Conclusion: An error-inclusive approach to software documentation and training yields better learning outcomes and moderates user frustration with errors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-95
Number of pages13
JournalTechnical communication
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Error management
  • Error-inclusive
  • Software documentation and training
  • n/a OA procedure


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