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User redefinition of search goals through interaction with an information retrieval system

Hider, Philip Martin (2004). User redefinition of search goals through interaction with an information retrieval system. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University, London)


Search goals of users of information retrieval systems have commonly been assumed to be static and well-formed. However, a significant amount of goal redefinition is detected in the studies described. A pilot study examined user behaviour at a library OPAC, showing that search results would quite frequently induce users to reconsider and revise their search goals, sometimes following up with a new search based on this revision (labeled "strong" goal redefinition). The main analysis employed transaction logs from the OCLC FirstSearch service, investigating what factors, if any, might affect the amount of goal redefinition that takes place during a search session. To this end, ten hypotheses were proposed and considered. Within each search session, logged queries were coded according to their conceptual differences or similarities, in order for indices of strong goal redefinition to be constructed: a chronological content analysis was thus performed on the transaction logs. The indices of redefinition for search sessions on different FirstSearch databases were compared. It was found that different databases induced goal redefinition to different extents. Further analysis showed that the metadata displayed by a database appeared to affect the amount of goal redefinition, and that the presence of abstracts in results was a positive factor, as was the presence of descriptors and identifiers, perhaps because of the former's hyperlinking nature on the FirstSearch interface. On the other hand, no evidence was found to indicate that abstract length has much of an effect on goal redefinition, nor hit rate or levels of precision and recall. Of the two indices of redefinition that were produced, the "refined" index showed signs of greater precision. Implications of the findings are discussed. It is suggested that goal redefinition should be considered a positive result of system feedback, and that systems should readily allow users to follow up on redefined goals. Abstracts and summaries of documents should be presented to the user as frequently as possible, and hyperlinks from key terms in the metadata should also be created to assist evolving searches. The importance of how system feedback is encountered by the user is emphasized in a new model of information retrieval, which
embraces the nonconscious as part of the "cognitive viewpoint," allowing for nonconscious information wants to enter into a user's consciousness through cues encountered during the scanning of search results, triggering a redefinition of search goal. This thesis paves the way for a considerable amount of potentially important research, including: further testing and development of the index of goal redefinition; deeper transaction log analyses, perhaps using screen recorders, examining semantic content and contextualizing at the level of the query; and further identification and analysis of the factors affecting goal redefinition, across different types of information retrieval system.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: T Technology > T Technology (General)
Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > ZA Information resources > ZA4050 Electronic information resources
Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > ZA Information resources > ZA4450 Databases
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Science & Technology > Computer Science
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