Factors Influencing Web Search Strategies
Marilyn Domas White, Associate Professor
College of Library and Information Science
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
E-mail: whitemd@wam.umd.edu
Mirja Iivonen, Professor
Department of Information Studies
University of Oulu
POB 1000
Fin-90401 Oulu, Finland
E-mail: mirja.iivonen@oulu.fi

        This paper studies the influence of question-related variables (closed/open and predictable/unpredictable source) on a web user's choice of search strategy in the initial stage of a search.  Search strategies considered include direct address, subject directory, and search engine.  The specific research questions are:  1)  Do web users adapt their overall strategy in searching the web or do they use one approach habitually, regardless of the question?  2) What search strategies do web users prefer in the initial stages of a search?  3) Do web users differentiate their initial choice of search strategies based on the type of search question?  4) How is level of difficulty related to the question typology (and the question variables)  used in this study?
        Subjects were 54 Finnish and American students averaging about 2.5 years of web searching. Data were gathered via a questionnaire asking for decisions about 16 questions of four types: closed/predictable source; closed/unpredictable source; open/predictable source; open/unpredictable source.
        The participants in this study not only indicated a fairly high degree of familiarity with their initial search options and used multiple search strategies but also said they were influenced in their choice of an initial search strategy by question-related variables.  Choice of initial search strategy varied significantly across types of questions.  The participants seem to be matching the capabilities of the search strategies with the requirements of the question.  They agreed to a large extent on the level of difficulty they attached to each question, and level of difficulty was closely related to type of question.  Although not analyzed in detail, in their reasons for assessing level of difficulty, the participants indicated they were considering the notion of constraints on the answer created by open and closed questions and their ability to predict the source of the answer.  Text (PDF)

Presented at the 62d ASIS annual meeting, November 1, 1999, Washington, DC.