Overview


People's search behaviors vary widely. It's likely that some of this variation is not related to differences in the characteristics of individual searchers (e.g., domain knowledge or search expertise), but is instead due to differences in the tasks that they are trying to accomplish. Through a systematic review of prior research, we hope to gain a better understanding of the types of search tasks that have been imposed in studies of searching behaviors and evaluations of information retrieval (IR) systems, and the potential influence of those search tasks on study/evaluation outcomes.

Naturalistic studies are intended to observe real people searching in order to complete real tasks; however, experimental studies are intended to isolate particular effects on user behaviors. Because of this desire for control in experimental studies, researchers usually impose/assign search tasks, either controlling the task effect by assigning the same tasks to all the subjects or manipulating it as an independent variable. Most studies to date have opted for control over manipulation, but in either case, researchers are handicapped by our lack of understanding of the influence of the search task on the study findings. Given that search tasks can vary along many dimensions, findings may be valid for a particular set of tasks, but we do not know to which additional tasks they may be validly applied.

In order to make additional progress in experimental studies, we need to gain a better understanding of search tasks and their effects. We need to be able to construct tasks having particular attributes, knowing that our findings can then be generalized to all search tasks having those attributes. To this end, this project is collecting and analyzing the search tasks that have been used in experimental search studies. The final products of this project will be twofold: (1) publications, and (2) an online database of all the search tasks assigned in all the studies reviewed.

Project Team     UNC   UBC   U Sheffield


Barbara Wildemuth
Professor
School of Information and Library Science
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Luanne Freund
Assistant Professor
School of Library, Archival and Information Studies
University of British Columbia

Elaine Toms
Professor
Director of Research
Information School
The University of Sheffield

Chris Doty
Graduate Research Assistant
School of Information and Library Science
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Ying Han
Graduate Research Assistant
School of Information and Library Science
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Amanda Leinberger
Graduate Research Assistant
School of Library, Archival and Information Studies
University of British Columbia

Jung Sun Oh
Assistant Professor
School of Information Sciences
University of Pittsburgh

Publications


Wildemuth, B.M., & Freund, L. (2009). Search tasks and their role in studies of search behaviors. Paper presented at HCIR 2009: Bridging Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval, Washington, DC, October 23, 2009. full text

Wildemuth, B.M., & Freund, L. (2012). Assigning Search Tasks Designed to Elicit Exploratory Search Behaviors. Proceedings of the Symposium on Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval, New York, NY, 2012. full text

Current Progress


Empirical Studies To Be Included in the Review, 8/14/2010