Information Retrieval in the Workplace: a comparison of professional search practices

If you are interested in professional search and applications of IR in the workplace, you may be interested in a paper titled ‘Information Retrieval in the Workplace: a Comparison of Professional Search Practices‘ in Information Processing & Management. This work is a collaboration with Tony Russell-Rose and Leif Azzopardi, and uses a common research protocol to investigate and compare information retrieval practices across a number of different professions. The paper is freely available for a limited period (until 15-Sep-2018) from the IPM website. Abstract follows:


Legal researchers, recruitment professionals, healthcare information professionals, and patent analysts all undertake work tasks where search forms a core part of their duties. In these instances, the search task is often complex and time-consuming and requires specialist expertise to identify relevant documents and insights within large domain-specific repositories and collections. Several studies have been made investigating the search practices of professionals such as these, but few have attempted to directly compare their professional practices and so it remains unclear to what extent insights and approaches from one domain can be applied to another. In this paper we describe the results of a survey of a purposive sample of 108 legal researchers, 64 recruitment professionals and 107 healthcare information professionals. Their responses are compared with results from a previous survey of 81 patent analysts. The survey investigated their search practices and preferences, the types of functionality they value, and their requirements for future information retrieval systems.

The results reveal that these professions share many fundamental needs and face similar challenges. In particular, a continuing preference to formulate queries as Boolean expressions, the need to manage, organise and re-use search strategies and results and an ambivalence toward the use of relevance ranking. The results stress the importance of recall and coverage for the healthcare and patent professionals, while precision and recency were more important to the legal and recruitment professionals. The results also highlight the need to ensure that search systems give confidence to the professional searcher and so trust, explainability and accountability remains a significant challenge when developing such systems. The findings suggest that translational research between the different areas could benefit professionals across domains.

About Jon Chamberlain
Jon Chamberlain

Research at the University of Essex and UXLabs with an interest in social networks, collective intelligence, search strategies and biotechnology.

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