Choosing and translating between problem representations

Donald R. Jones, David A. Schkade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The way a problem is represented to a decision maker can have a substantial influence on how it is solved. Research on the effects of problem representations has generally assumed that the problem is solved in the form it is given. In this study we examine the possibility that under certain conditions decision makers will translate a problem from the representation given to a more familiar or convenient representation. In a videotaped experiment, experienced systems analysts were asked to solve both small and large system design modification problems. Analysts received the problems in one of two external representations: a data flow diagram or an informationally equivalent input-process-output table. We found that a substantial proportion of analysts submitted solutions using a different external representation than the one they were given (i.e., they translated the problem from the given external representation to another) and that the size of the problem had no effect on the tendency to translate. Process tracing analysis showed that the choice of representation was usually made very early in the problem-solving process, perhaps before the analysts fully understood how much effort would be required to solve the problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-223
Number of pages10
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1995


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