Application of Cognitive Engineering Principles to the Redesign of a Dichotomous Identification Key for Parasitology

Publication Date



AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2006; 2006: 739–743.


Dichotomous identification keys are used throughout biology for identification of plants, insects, and parasites. However, correct use of identification keys can be difficult as they are not usually intended for novice users who may not be familiar with the terminology used or with the morphology of the organism being identified. Therefore, we applied cognitive engineering principles to redesign a parasitology identification key for the Internet. We addressed issues of visual clutter and spatial distance by displaying a single question couplet at a time and by switching to the appropriate next couplet after the user made a choice. Our analysis of the original paper-based key versus the Web-based approach found that of 26 applicable cognitive engineering principles, the paper key did not meet 4 (15%) and partially met 11 (42%). In contrast, the redesigned key met 100% of 32 applicable cognitive engineering principles.


Classification, microcomputers, software, internet, veterinary, parasitology, Human Engineering, Parasitic Diseases, Animal/parasitology, Parasites/classifcation


PMCID: PMC1839435