A reference model for user-system interaction in thesaurus-based searching

Blocks, D., Cunliffe, D., & Tudhope, D. (2006). A reference model for user-system interaction in thesaurus-based searching. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(12), 1655-1665. doi: 10.1002/asi.20482.

The authors of this article have presented a model based on information searching that is intended for helping system developers. This model focuses on the user-system interaction and the various stages of searching a thesaurus indexed collection. The authors also discuss potential problems and possibilities for system developers. Through the testing of their model, comes the ability for evaluators to analyze a system’s elements by identifying processes in the model to support end-user searches. User awareness regarding the search process needs to be raised either through training or displayed information. Controlled vocabulary tools can assist in query refinement or analyzing results.

It is important to develop systems around search behaviors or else the interface is difficult to use and hard to navigate. Mapping potential query terms to the controlled vocabulary can often be a difficult step in the search process. “Knowledge about the collection is acquired by (mentally) comparing two sets of results, or a record’s indexing terms to the query terms, and can feed directly back into query formulation” (1659). The benefits of identifying controlled vocabulary terms through visualization were outlined by the authors.

The model was developed from the literature and data collected during two in-depth studies that used a thesaurus for controlled vocabulary indexing and searching.  Methods used to analyze the information seeking behavior of 23 library and museum professionals on set tasks, in a total of 20 sessions lasting for 1 hour included: application logging, screen capture, observation with interviews, “think alouds”, and content analysis. 

Future Work
Considerations for a system:

  • If a searcher makes a spelling mistake, syntax error, or unrecognized concept, this can defeat a search before it even begins. If a searcher selects candidate terms and a large number of CV terms are returned, “Options for visualizing terms in their hierarchical context may help as well as additional information from the thesaurus” (1661).
  • Ability to easily access and add more controlled vocabulary terms to a query
  • Query reformulation is a key point in the thesaurus search process and automated support (database, query terms, options regarding query set-up) can help clarify a user’s misunderstanding of the search process
  • Tools that assist searchers in their understanding of a collection’s indexing practice support end-user comprehension and evaluation of query reformulation
    • EX: visualization techniques that highlight related terms or the effects of query modification
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