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Information seeking behaviour refers to the way people search for and utilize information.[1] In 2000, Wilson described information seeking behaviour as the totality of human behaviour in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information-seeking, and information use.[2] He described purposive seeking of information as a consequence of a need to satisfy some goal. Information Seeking behaviour is the micro-level of behaviour employed by the searcher in interacting with information systems of all kinds, be it between the seeker and the system, or the pure method of creating and following up on a search.

A variety of theories of information behaviour - e.g. Zipf's Principle of Least Effort, Brenda Dervin's Sense Making, Elfreda Chatman's Life in the Round - seek to understand the processes that surround information seeking.[citation needed]


Information Search Process (ISP)Edit

ISP was proposed and developed by Carol Kuhlthau.

A holistic framework based initially on research into high school students, but extended over time to include a diverse range of people, including those in the workplace. It examined the role of emotions, specifically uncertainty, in the information seeking process, concluding that many searches are abandoned due to an overwhelmingly high level of uncertainty.[3]

ISP is a 6 stage process, with each stage each encompassing 4 aspects;

  • Cognitive (thoughts) - what is to be accomplished
  • Affective (feelings) - what the searcher was feeling
  • Actions (physical) - what the searcher did
  • Strategies (physical) - what the searcher was trying to achieve[4]
Stage Task Thoughts Feelings Actions Strategies
1 Task initiation Contemplating assignment, comprehending task, relating prior experience and knowledge, considering possible topics Apprehension of work ahead, uncertainty Talking with others, browsing library Brainstorming, discussing, contemplating possibilities, tolerating uncertainty
2 Topic selection Weighing topics against criteria such as personal interest, project requirements, information available, time available; predicting outcome of possible choices, choosing topic with potential for successConfusion, sometimes anxiety, brief elation (after selection), anticipation of task Consulting informal mediators, using reference collections, preliminary searches Discussing possible topics, predicting outcomes of choices, gaining general overview of topic
3 Pre-focus exploration Becoming informed about general topic, seeking focus in general information found, identifying possible foci, inability to express precise information needed Confusion, doubt, sometimes threat, uncertainty Locating relevant information, reading to become informed, taking notes, making bibliographic citations Reading to learn about topic, tolerating inconsistency and incompatibility of information encountered, intentionally seeking possible focus, listing descriptors
4 Focus formation Predicting outcome of possible foci, using stage 2 task criteria, identifying ideas in information to form focus, sometimes characterised by a sudden moment of insight Optimism, confidence of ability to complete task Reading notes for themesMaking a survey of notes, listing possible foci, choosing a focus while rejecting others OR combining several themes to form one focus
5 Information collection Seeking information to support focus, defining and extending focus through information, gathering pertinent information, organising information in notes Realisation of extensive work to be done, confidence in ability to complete task, increased interest Using library to collect pertinent information, requesting specific sources, talking detailed notes with bibliographic citations Using descriptors to search out pertinent information, making comprehensive search of various types of materials i.e. reference, periodicals, non-fiction and biography, using indexes, requesting assistance of librarian
6 Search closure Identify need for any additional information, considering time limit, diminishing relevance, increasing redundancy, exhausting resourcesSense of relief, sometimes satisfaction, sometimes disappointment Re-checking information for information initially overlooked, confirming information and bibliographic citations Returning to library to make summary search, keeping books until completion of writing to re-check information

David EllisEdit

Investigated the behaviour of researchers in the physical and social sciences[6] and engineers and research scientists [7] through semi-structured interviews using a grounded theory approach, with a focus on describing the activities rather than a process.

These initial investigations produced six key activities within the information seeking process:

  • Starting (activities that form the information search)
  • Chaining (backwards or forwards - following references in initial information sources)
  • Browsing (semi-directed search)
  • Differentiating (filtering and selecting sources based on judgements of quality and relevance)
  • Monitoring (keeping track of developments in an area)
  • Extracting (systematic extraction of material of interest from sources)

Later studies by Ellis (focusing on academic researchers in other disciplines) resulted in the addition of two more activities;

  • Verifying (checking accuracy)
  • Ending (a final search, checking all material covered)

Episodic ModelEdit

The episodic model was developed by Nicholas J. Belkin.

The episodic model is based largely on intuition and insight and concentrates on interactions with information. There are 4 dimensions which characterise search behaviour. These dimensions can be combined in 16 different ways.

  • Method of interaction (scanning/searching)
  • Goal of interaction (learning/selecting)
  • Mode of retrieval (recognition/specification)
  • Resource considered (information/meta-information)

Anomalous State of Knowledge (ASK)Edit

ASK was also developed by Nicholas J. Belkin.

An anomalous state of knowledge is one in which the searcher recognises a gap in the state of knowledge. This, his further hypothesis, is influential in studying why people start to search.[8]

Wilson's theory of Information BehaviourEdit

Thomas Wilson proposed that information behaviour covers all aspects of human information behaviour, whether active or passive.

Information Seeking behaviour is the act of actively seeking information in order to answer a specific query.

Information Searching behaviour is the behaviour which stems from the searcher interacting with the system in question. This system could be a technological one, such as the searcher interacting with a search engine, or a manual one, such as the searcher selecting which book is most pertinent to their query.

Information Use behaviour pertains to the searcher adopting the knowledge they sought.

Main article: Thomas Wilson

Information ForagingEdit

Developed by Stuart Card, Ed H. Chi and Peter Pirolli.

This model is derived from anthropological theories and is comparable to foraging for food. Information seekers use clues (or information scents) such as links, summaries and images to estimate how close they are to target information. A scent must be obvious as users often browse aimlessly or look for specific information. Information foraging is descriptive of why and not how people search in particular ways.[9]

Main article: Information foraging

Life in the roundEdit

Developed by Elfreda Chatman.

She defines life in the round as a world of tolerated approximation. It acknowledges reality at its most routine, predictable enough that unless an initial problem should arise, there is no point in seeking information.[10]

Chatman examined this principle within a small world: a world which imposes on its participants similar concerns and awareness of who is important; which ideas are relevant and whom to trust. Partcipants in this world are considered insiders.[11]

Chatman focused her study on women at a maximum security prison. She learned that over time, prisoner's private views were assimilated to a communal acceptance of life in the round: a small world perceived in accordance with agreed upon standards and communal perspective. Members who live in the round will not cross the boundaries of their world to seek information unless it is critical; there is a collecive expectation expectation that information is relevant; or life lived in the round no longer functions. The world outside prison has secondary importance to inmates who are absent from this reality which is changing with time.[12] .

Sense MakingEdit

Brenda Dervin developed the concept of sensemaking. Sensemaking considers how we (attempt to) make sense of uncertain situations.[13] Her description of Sensemaking consisted of the definition of how we interpret information to use for our own information related decisions.

Brenda Dervin described sensemaking as a method through which people make sense of their worlds in their own language.

For more, please reference

Main article: Sensemaking

Principle of least effortEdit

This explains that information seekers prioritise the most convenient path to acceptable information.[14]

Main article: Principle of least effort

Navigators and explorersEdit

This compares the internet search methods of experienced information seekers(navigators) and inexperienced information seekers(explorers). Navigators revisit domains; follow sequential searches and have few deviations or regressions within their search patterns and interactions. Explorers visit many domains; submit many questions and their search trails branch frequently.[15]

Information sources: Other people and/or information repositories Edit

Robinson’s (2010)[16] research suggests that when seeking information at work, people rely on both other people and information repositories (e.g., documents and databases), and spend similar amounts of time consulting each (7.8% and 6.4% of work time, respectively; 14.2% in total). However, of theoretical interest, the distribution of time among the constituent information seeking stages differs depending on the source. When consulting other people, people spend less time locating the information source and information within that source, similar time understanding the information, and more time problem solving and decision making, than when consulting information repositories. Furthermore, the research found that people spend substantially more time receiving information passively (i.e., information that they have not requested) than actively (i.e., information that they have requested), and this pattern is also reflected when they provide others with information.

Similarities between modelsEdit

A review of the literature on information seeking behaviour shows that information seeking has generally been accepted as dynamic and non-linear (Foster, 2005; Kuhlthau 2006). People experience the Information Search Process as an interplay of thoughts, feelings and actions (Kuhlthau, 2006).

Information seeking has been found to be linked to a variety of interpersonal communication behaviors beyond question-asking, to include strategies such as candidate answers.[citation needed]

A search for information may be linked to decision making. The decision involved may vary from a trivial personal matter to a decision which affects billions or may have cumulative economic or political effects as individual buying or voting decisions may.[17]

Information Seeking BehavioursEdit

Nicolaisen[18] described four distinct types of information seeking behaviours: visceral, conscious, formalized and compromised. The visceral need is expressed as the actual information need before it has been expressed. The conscious need is the need once it has been recognized by the seeker. The formalized need is the statement of the need and the compromised need is the query when related to the information system.

JISC's study of the Google Generation [19] detailed six different characteristics of online information seeking behaviour;

  • horizontal information seekers
  • navigation
  • viewers
  • squirreling behaviour
  • diverse information seekers
  • checking information seekers.

Horizontal information seeking is the method sometimes referred to as "skimming". An information seeker who skims views a couple of pages, then subsequently follows other links without necessarily returning to the initial sites. Navigators, as might be expected, spend their time finding their way around. Wilson found that users of e-book or e-journal sites were most likely spend, on average, a mere four to eight minutes viewing said sites. Squirreling behaviour relates to users who download lots of documents but might not necessarily end up reading them. Checking information seekers assess the host in order to ascertain trustworthiness. The bracket of users named diverse information seekers are users whose behaviour differs from the above sectors.

See alsoEdit


  1. Fairer–Wessels, 1990, page 361.
  2. Wilson, T. (2000). Human Information Behaviour. Informing Science 3 (2): 49–55.
  3. Kuhlthau, Carol Carol Kuhlthau. URL accessed on 2011-03-30.
  4. Kuhlthau, Carol Carol Kuhlthau. URL accessed on 2011-03-30.
  5. Kuhlthau's Model of the Stages of the Information Process. URL accessed on 2011-03-30.
  6. Ellis, David, Cox, Deborah, Hall, katherine (1993). A COMPARISON OF THE INFORMATION SEEKING PATTERNS OF RESEARCHERS IN THE PHYSICAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCES. Journal of Documentation 49 (4): 356–369.
  7. David, Ellis, Haugan, Merete (1997). Modelling the information seeking patterns of engineers and research scientists in an industrial environment. Journal of Documentation 53 (4): 384–403.
  8. Belkin, Nicholas J. "Anomalous states of knowledge as a basis for information retrieval," Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science,5 pp.133-143.
  9. Chi,E.H; Pirolli,P; Chen, K; and Pitkow J. "Using information scent to model user information needs and actions and the web," In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems 2001, pp. 490-497
  10. Chatman, Elfreda "A theory of life in the round," The journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(3):207-217.
  11. Chatman, Elfreda "A theory of life in the round," The journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(3):207-217.
  12. Chatman, Elfreda "A theory of life in the round," The journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(3):207-217.
  13. Klein, G., Moon, B. and Hoffman, R.F. "Making sense of sensemaking I: alternative perspectives,"IEEE Intelligent Systems, 21(4), 70-73.
  14. Case Donald O. "Principle of least effort,"Theories Of Information Behavior, Karen Fisher ed. p50.
  15. White, Ryen W and Drucker, Steven M "Investigating behavioural variability in web search," 16th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2007)
  16. Robinson, M. A. (2010). An empirical analysis of engineers’ information behaviors. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(4), 640–658.
  17. Case, Donald O. (2002). Looking for information: a survey of research on information seeking, needs and behavior, Academic Press.
  18. Nicolaisen, J. (2004-2009). Compromised need and the label effect: An examination of claims and evidence. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (10).
  19. The Google Generation.

External links and further readingEdit

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