A search tactic is a set of search moves that are temporally and semantically related. The current study examined the tactics of medical students searching a factual database in microbiology. The students answered problems and searched the database on three occasions over a 9-month period. Their search moves were analyzed in terms of the changes in search terms used from one cycle to the next, using two different analysis methods.
Common patterns were found in the students' search tactics; the most common approach was the specification of a concept, followed by the addition of one or more concepts, gradually narrowing the retrieved set before it was displayed. It was also found that the search tactics changed over time as the students' domain knowledge changed. These results have important implications for designers in developing systems that will support users' preferred ways of formulating searches. In addition, the research methods used (the coding scheme and the two data analysis methods—zero-order state transition matrices and maximal repeating patterns [MRP] analysis) are discussed in terms of their validity in future studies of search tactics.