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A.D. Madden, G. Gorrell, N. Ford, B. Eaglestone, P. Holdridge

University of Sheffield (UNITED KINGDOM)
Studies into online search behaviour at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Information Studies have shown that searchers use a variety of strategies in order to find the information they are looking for. An on-going project is seeking to determine the role of metacognition in these strategies.

Metacognition is generally described as “thinking about thinking”. It relates to a thinker’s awareness of his or her own thought processes: hence it can play a significant part in the formulation of strategy.

Student volunteers were recruited as they were about to begin an assignment which would require them to seek information. At the start of their assignment, in a recorded session, the volunteers were asked to plan the assignment using a mindmap. They were encouraged to pay particular attention to what information they might require and to discuss their strategies for attaining it. They were asked to explain their mindmap as they drew it up.

Every week throughout their assignment, the volunteers completed a short questionnaire in which they provided details of recent search activities and searches planned for the future. On completion of their assignment they were invited for a follow-up interview.

This paper reports on preliminary findings of the study. The results of the analysis of recordings from ten volunteers are discussed. Findings suggest that some elements of search strategy are universal, while others are subject specific. The first can be promoted by use of appropriate training and online tools, the second must be developed by the user as he or she gains knowledge of the subject domain within which he or she is seeking information.

Universal elements included actions taken to remember searches, and evaluations based on an appreciation of the relative merits of different kinds of document. Subject specific elements included selections of appropriate keywords and use of retrieved documents to seed subsequent searches.