Characteristics of HFE Research
One way to analyze the characteristics of a discipline is to examine its technical papers for what these tell us about the conceptual patterns of its professionals. The analyst works backward from the papers to infer the concept that professionals applied to their work. This is a specifically historical analysis rather than an empirical one because it is not feasible to ask the authors of these studies what they were thinking about when they performed a study. As a reasoning process, this may seem somewhat tenuous, but the conclusions are anchored in evidence derived from the actual statements made by the authors of these papers.
This chapter is based on a content analysis of more than 621 papers published by the Human Factors Society during the years 1965 to 1995. The papers were divided into two classes: empirical (those in which at least one individual's performance was tested) and nonempirical studies (those in which performance was not measured, although reference might be made to previous performances). Nonempirical papers consisted of such material as presidential addresses, reviews of previous research, and descriptions of equipment and methodology.
There were two types of analysis. The first was longitudinal--tracking changes in research characteristics over the years. The second considered research characteristics implicit in the papers themselves, disregarding chronological changes. The content analysis of the empirical papers determined the primary and secondary themes of the papers; their source; the measurement venue; type of subjects used; the methodology employed; the motive for initiating the research; whether theory or modeling was involved in the research; the unit of analysis; and whether any hypothesis or applications were