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Establishing a Research Agenda for Studies of Online Search Behaviors (SIG USE)

Carol Barry; Joseph Janes; Abby Goodrum; Sandra Hirsh

Sparking Synergies: Bringing Research and Practice Together @ ASIST '05 (ASIS&T 2005)
Westin Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 28 - November 2, 2005


As follow-up to discussions at the SIG USE Research Symposium on “Measuring Search Behaviors” held at the 2002 ASIST annual meeting, a Delphi study is being conducted. The study will be completed in March 2005. It was designed to solicit expert opinion on two methodological aspects of research on online search behaviors: (1) the variables that are most critical to such studies and (2) methods for measuring these variables. The outcomes of the study will be reported and discussed by the proposed panel, and can be used to establish a research agenda for studies of online search behaviors.

The Study

The Delphi study participants were recruited from those who had participated in the 2002 symposium, scholars who have published multiple studies in the area of online search behaviors, and the membership of the Association for Information Science and Technology. To date, more than 80 scholars in the field of information and library science have participated in the first two rounds of the study.

During the first round of the study, participants prioritized variables that had been generated during the 2002 symposium, including variables related to the person/user, variables related to the database and search system, and variables related to the search process. They were asked to rate the importance of each variable for inclusion in studies of online search behaviors. Participants were also asked to comment on variables and to suggest additional variables.

During the second round, participants were asked to prioritize and comment on those variables that had received the highest ratings in the first round of the study. The results of the first two rounds have indicated an adequate level of consensus regarding the variables that are most critical to studies of online search behaviors. Across all sets of variables, those with mean ratings of 4.0 or higher were:

        Variables related to the search process

                        •        Search topics/tasks. Purpose for conducting the search. The situational context of the search

                        •        Search behaviors: Search terms used. Sequential sets of search statements. Types of search statements

                        •        Search outcomes: Users’ criteria for evaluating the items retrieved. Satisfaction with search results/outcomes. Utility/value of search results

                Variables related to the database and search system

                        •        Database coverage and structure: Subject/domain coverage. Types of documents included

                        •        System support of searching: Natural language queries. User can provide relevance feedback. Query expansion

                        •        System support for display: Sorting of results. Ranking of results by relevance

                Variables related to the person/user

                        •        Understanding/knowledge: Of the search topic/domain. Of search strategy development

                        •        Psychological/personality characteristics: Motivation

                        •        Demographic: Experience with searching

During the third round (which will be conducted in February-March 2005), participants will be asked to prioritize methods for measuring the variables identified in the first two rounds, specifically commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of measurement techniques. A fourth round will be conducted if consensus is not reached during the third round.

The Panel

Carol Barry, Louisiana State University (who is conducting the study with Barbara Wildemuth, University of North Carolina) will report the results of the study. This will include a description of the study methods; prioritization of variables that are critical to studies of online searching behavior and appropriate measurements of those variables; and summaries of open-ended comments made by the study participants.

Three panelists will then react to the results of the study. Joseph Janes, University of Washington, will represent the views of an academic scholar who has not been a participant in the study. Abby Goodrum, Syracuse University, will represent the views of an academic scholar who has been a participant in the study. Sandra Hirsh, Microsoft, will represent the views of a practitioner who has been a participant in the study.

It is believed that the results of the study, combined with the reactions of three leading scholars in the field, will provide an important foundation toward establishing a research agenda for online search behaviors.

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