Information Seeking from Web-Based Resources: Sensemaking Strategies and Implications for Interaction Design

Abraham, Ann (2013). Information Seeking from Web-Based Resources: Sensemaking Strategies and Implications for Interaction Design. PhD thesis The Open University.



The internet has made an enormous volume of information available, and there has been substantial research into how users look for information. However, there has been much less research about how they make sense of what they find, and how sensemaking is shaped by the tasks they are trying to achieve. This research addresses that gap, with empirical studies of sensemaking during web-based information tasks.

Two main studies are presented, which aimed to expose the relationship between information seeking and information comprehension and use. The first study explored the actions of experienced information processors (in this case, doctoral students) as they undertook research-related web-based tasks related to their own work. The second study observed experienced users as they undertook an unfamiliar topic comprehension task. In both studies participants were encouraged to ‘think-aloud’ as they completed web-based tasks. Audio-recording was used in Study-1 with video-recording in Study-2. In addition to the task session, background questionnaires and sample interviews were applied. A detailed, iterative inductive analysis was undertaken for each study.

The analysis produced a framework that models the users’ process in terms of five categories of information interactions: seeking, evaluating for selection, evaluating for use, compilation, and planning. A range of visual representations were developed to capture the user sessions, expressing facets such as how resources were used over time and in combination, and the sequences of user behaviours. Attention was given to the use of representation throughout this process. Sensemaking goals and strategies were inferred from users’ behaviours and utterances, and were related to their activity and output. The intertwined nature of information seeking and sensemaking activity was revealed, and planning (not addressed in previous literature) was identified as a significant behaviour that drives strategy and binds the other behaviours to the task-in-hand. These findings have implications for interaction design and for tools to support sensemaking.

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