Matt Jadud sent some interesting references to the PPIG (Psychology of Programming Interest Group, www.ppig.org) mailing list this morning one of which is a fascinating paper from 1963:

CORC -- The Cornell computing language

http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/366604.366651

What is especially interesting about this paper is the lengths the authors went to in order to improve the whole end to end user experience of using CORC. While the authors did a lot of work on the design of the actual programming language, they also did a lot of work on improving compiler diagnostics and run time error messages in order to reduce the edit-compile-debug cycle (which makes good sense in the days of punch cards...). This is something that is often overlooked nowadays. For example, good API design can be let down by poor run time exception messages. I've seen APIs for example that throw exceptions from base classes when the user has used a derived class incorrectly, in which the messages refer to the state and context of the base class even though the user has no knowledge of this class.

It's important to try to provide enough information to let the user know that a problem occurred and how they might be able to fix it. Obviously this isn't always possible, but if you can provide any guidance to the user about how to recover from an error, it's imperative that you do so. Remember that not all of your users will read the documentation that you ship with your API!