The Vocabulary Problem in Human-System Communication. Furnas, G. W., Landauer, T. K., Gomez, L. M., & Dumais, S. T. Communications of the ACM, 30(11):964-971, November, 1987.
doi  abstract   bibtex   
In almost all computer applications, users must enter correct words for the desired objects or actions. For success without extensive training, or in first-tries for new targets, the system must recognize terms that will be chosen spontaneously. We studied spontaneous word choice for objects in five application-related domains, and found the variability to be surprisingly large. In every case two people favored the same term with probability <0.20. Simulations show how this fundamental property of language limits the success of various design methodologies for vocabulary-driven interaction. For example, the popular approach in which access is via one designer's favorite single word will result in 80-90 percent failure rates in many common situations. An optimal strategy, unlimited aliasing, is derived and shown to be capable of several-fold improvements.
@article{ fur87,
  author = {George W. Furnas and Thomas K. Landauer and Louis M. Gomez and Susan T. Dumais},
  title = {The Vocabulary Problem in Human-System Communication},
  journal = {Communications of the ACM},
  year = {1987},
  month = {November},
  volume = {30},
  number = {11},
  pages = {964-971},
  doi = {10.1145/32206.32212},
  uri = {http://www.si.umich.edu/~furnas/Papers/vocab.paper.pdf},
  abstract = {In almost all computer applications, users must enter correct words for the desired objects or actions. For success without extensive training, or in first-tries for new targets, the system must recognize terms that will be chosen spontaneously. We studied spontaneous word choice for objects in five application-related domains, and found the variability to be surprisingly large. In every case two people favored the same term with probability <0.20. Simulations show how this fundamental property of language limits the success of various design methodologies for vocabulary-driven interaction. For example, the popular approach in which access is via one designer's favorite single word will result in 80-90 percent failure rates in many common situations. An optimal strategy, unlimited aliasing, is derived and shown to be capable of several-fold improvements.}
}
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