Questions as a Factor in Web Search Strategy

Marilyn Domas White
College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742


Mirja Iivonen
Department of Information Studies, University of Oulu, POB 1000, Fin-90401, Oulu, Finland

            This paper studies the influence of question-related variables (closed/open and predictable/unpredictable sources) on Web users' choices of search strategy (direct address, subject directory, and search engines) in the initial stage of a search.  Subjects are 54 Finnish and American students with about 2.5 years of Web searching.  Data were gathered via a questionnaire asking for decisions for 16 questions of four types:  close/predictable source; closed/unpredictable source; open/predictable source; open/unpredictable source.  The participants not only indicated a fairly high degree of familiarity with the initial search options and used different search strategies but also were influenced in their choice of an initial search strategy by question-related characteristics.  Of the two question characterisitics in the study, the most influential is the predictable/unpredictable source of the answer.  The participants mentioned 24 different types of reasons for selecting the initial search strategy, which were grouped by their focus on questions, sources, and search strategy options.  The reasons varied across question types.  A model of choice behavior shows relationships among the initial question, the reasons, and the choice of initial search strategies.

Bibliographic citation:  White, M.D., & Iivonen, M.  (2001).  Questions as a factor in Web search strategy.  Information Processing & Management, 37, 721-740.