Module # 3 User Interface Search – Research Process and Interface Preferences

This week’s homework asks us to consider whether we perceive ourselves as dynamic vs. classic searchers. I realize that my response that I am probably a “classic” searcher makes me a bit of an outlier, but I can explain!

In my experience as a law student and then in one of my jobs teaching law students how to perform online legal research, it was very important to me (and to the students I taught) to carefully consider the first two parts of the classic notion of the information seeking process, (1) to identify the issues we want to research, and (2) what types of sources we think would best provide the answers we are looking for.  In fact, as students, before we signed on to any of the legal databases we had access to, we were told to script out on paper both (1) and (2), and then (3) our query — as at that time the only IR model available to us was Boolean search logic.  As our reading points out, Boolean can be difficult to learn, and if your query does not accurately capture the information you want, you may miss relevant information.  (I used to tell my students, “If you are going to add AND NOT or NOT W/n to your query, add it at the very end.” So many would add AND NOT (term) AND (term) and then wonder why their results got smaller.)

I like the classic approach even if the challenges of Boolean search logic are set aside.  I think forcing us through the classic search model made us better researchers and better critical thinkers.  The drawbacks of “diving into” legal research are many — without carefully considering the issues you want to research, you could ultimately focus on an argument that is not on point.  Time is also at a premium as a practitioner – not everyone has the luxury of “berry picking.”  And, when I learned how to do legal research, there were charges associated with each search that was conducted in the legal databases, so you wanted to be very careful about how many searches you ran!

All of that said, I do find myself doing a “first search” on Google to get the lay of the land and identify potentially relevant terminology before going to the legal databases now.  Usually these are one or two-term searches, very much “orienteering.”  So maybe my approach is evolving.

The second question we are asked to consider is what our interface preferences are.  Given my background it won’t come as a surprise that I like systems that allow for Boolean IR.  Open fields for typing in searches together with a field chooser are always nice – the Advanced Search option on the USF Library site is a good example.  I do really like databases that incorporate query visualization — or at least a list of which documents contain what terms – “X number of documents contain (term) but not (term)” for example.  I think that goes back to my preference for Boolean where a zero response answer set is in fact an answer.  (If the term “summary judgment” does not appear in a database containing all of the caselaw in a particular jurisdiction, then you know for a fact that “summary judgment” has not been considered in that jurisdiction, ever.  Unless of course whoever wrote the opinion spelled “summary judgment” as “summary judgement,” but that is a drawback of Boolean!)

Bells and whistles like point and click maps are nice — many retailers offer clickable maps on the “Find a Store” sections of their sites.  That said, if there is an option (and there usually is) to input a City, State or Zip Code I will choose that option rather than clicking.

I would like to add here an example of an interface I do not like, and why. I do not like Delta’s website, even though I use it quite frequently as I regularly travel for business. I think there are a lot of bells and whistles that are supposed to add visual appeal, but seem to slow down one’s search. Here is what annoys me most of all though. When I search for a flight, my default results list is sorted by “Best Match.” “Best Match” according to who? What criteria?


To circle back to the assigned reading, I do believe my preferences are shaped by familiarity – despite my frustration with Delta.  The assigned slides highlight that “often the preferred choice is the familiar one,” and this has been my personal experience as well as feedback I’ve received from my students.  I’ve asked them about their database preferences, and often they will say they like one service versus another simply because they learned the first one, first.

The assignment also asked us to add what we have learned about information retrieval and representation.  The answer is “a lot.”  I was particularly interested in the different approaches to design iteration, particularly the discussion of “longitudinal studies.”  In my various jobs I have commissioned and conducted website usability studies — I’m not a market researcher, but have made decisions based on the results of usability testing.  I’ve often wondered whether the results have been biased or forced due to the controlled one-hour, one on one style interview, and find the idea of testing a new interface approach on end users without them knowing that they are part of a test, a very interesting approach.


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