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Putting it together online: Information need identification for the domain novice user



Domain novice users in the beginning stages of researching a topic find themselves searching for information via information retrieval (IR) systems before they have identified their information need. Pre-Internet access technologies adapted by current IR systems poorly serve these domain novice users, whose behavior might be characterized as rudderless and without a compass. In this article we describe a conceptual design for an information retrieval system that incorporates standard information need identification classification and subject cataloging schemes, called the INIIReye System, and a study that tests the efficacy of the innovative part of the INIIReye System, called the Associative Index. The Associative Index helps the user put together his or her associative thoughts—Vannevar Bush's idea of associative indexing for his Memex machine that he never actually described. For the first time, data from the study reported here quantitatively supports the theoretical notion that the information seeker's information need is identified through transformation of his/her knowledge structure (i.e., the seeker's cognitive map or perspective on the task for which information is being sought).