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The effect of dyslexia on information retrieval: A pilot study

MacFarlane, A., Al-Wabil, A., Marshall, C. R. , Albrair, A., Jones, S. A. & Zaphiris, P. (2010). The effect of dyslexia on information retrieval: A pilot study. Journal of Documentation, 66(3), pp. 307-326. doi: 10.1108/00220411011038421


Purpose – The purpose of the paper is to resolve a gap in our knowledge of how people with dyslexia interact with Information Retrieval (IR) systems, specifically an understanding of their information searching behaviour. Very little research has been undertaken with this particular user group, and given the size of the group (an estimated 10% of the population) this lack of knowledge needs to be addressed.

Design/Methodology/Approach - We use elements of the dyslexia cognitive profile to design a logging system recording the difference between two sets of participants: dyslexic and control users. We use a standard Okapi interface together with two standard TREC topics in order to record the information searching behaviour of these users. We gather evidence from various sources, including quantitative information on search logs, together with qualitative information from interviews and questionnaires. We record variables on queries, documents, relevance assessments and sessions in the search logs. We use this evidence to examine the difference in searching between the two sets of users, in order to understand the effect of dyslexia on the information searching behaviour. A topic analysis is also conducted on the quantitative data to show any effect on the results from the information need.

Research limitations/implications – As this is a pilot study, only 10 participants were recruited for the study, 5 for each user group. Due to ethical issues, the number of topics per search was restricted to one topic only. The study shows that the methodology applied is useful for distinguishing between the two user groups, taking into account differences between topic. We outline further research on the back of this pilot study in four main areas. A different approach from the proposed methodology is needed to measure the effect on query variables, which takes account of topic variation. More details on users are needed such as reading abilities, speed of language processing and working memory to distinguish the user groups. Effect of topic on search interaction must be measured in order to record the potential impact on the dyslexic user group. Work is needed on relevance assessment and effect on precision and recall for users who may not read many documents.

Findings – Using the log data, we establish the differences in information searching behaviour of control and dyslexic users i.e. in the way the two groups interact with Okapi, and that qualitative information collected (such as experience etc) may not be able to account for these differences. Evidence from query variables was unable to distinguish between groups, but differences on topic for the same variables were recorded. Users who view more documents tended to judge more documents as being relevant, either in terms of the user group or topic. Session data indicated that there may be an important difference between the number of iterations used in a search between the user groups, as there may be little effect from the topic on this variable.

Originality/Value – This is the first study of the effect of dyslexia on information search behaviour, and provides some evidence to take the field forward.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: information retrieval, dyslexia
Subjects: Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > Z665 Library Science. Information Science
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Media, Culture & Creative Industries > Library & Information Science
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