Users’ Meaning in Interpersonal and Technology Mediated Information Need Specification

By Kyunghye Yoon and Michael S. Nilan.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This study examined interpersonal information seeking interactions between a user and a source person (e.g., reference librarian, advisor, etc.) and analyzed users’ articulations of information need. The central conceptual framework was the concept of topic and comment from the Prague functional linguistic notions of the two necessary dimensions of any linguistic meaning. The objective was to gain insight into the linguistic meaning of users’ information need by exploring the functional roles of topic and comment employed in their articulation of need. A total of 28 user-source interactions were recorded to generate transcripts of the interactions and then users were interviewed to obtain user explanations of the meaning of recorded utterances from the interactions. The utterances were content analyzed, clearly showing the essential roles of topic and comment in such interaction. Results showed that topic functioned to describe a subject area briefly as a set of discrete keywords which appeared in the early stages of the interaction. Comment functioned to elaborate what users knew about their need specifying elaborations of context well beyond topic. The discussion here focuses on the utility of comment for the topic-dominant information search technology and system design. Topic has long been considered the main criterion in information organization and retrieval systems which has been carried over to search engines. According to topic-based information search logic, content can be represented as topical terms or keywords to be matched with user query terms. Comment, on the other hand has been neglected in information search logic even though it is the other essential dimension of meaning. The role of comment is seen as a necessary complement to the specification of the user meaning and functions to contextually situate the topical elements which define a more specific concept of the user’s information need.

Keywords: Information Seeking, Information Retrieval, Topic and Comment

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 9, pp.81-94. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 763.688KB).

Kyunghye Yoon

Assistant Professor, Information Science Program, Computer Science Department, State University of New York at Oswego, Oswego, NY, USA

Dr. Yoon is an assistant professor and teaches in the Information Science program at State University of New York at Oswego. Her research interest includes information seeking behavior of users, user-based information retrieval, and implications of information technology.

Michael S. Nilan

Associate Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA

Dr. Nilan is an associate professor at Syracuse University, School of Information Studies. His research interests include user-based approaches to virtual collaborating and cognitive information seeking and use behaviors.


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