Information needs

Information needs play a large role in understanding why a searcher wants to find out information, as well as, identifying some circumstances which cause us to find information. An information need on a weekday at lunchtime could be to look at the BBC’s website for the latest news whereas an information need on a Sunday evening at home could be to find information on our favourite musical band. So information needs, ultimately, are the things a searcher wants to find out. Understanding information needs allows us understand an important concept as to why we search for information.

Why search history is different in work compared to home?

Information needs are influenced by our environment which affects our search behaviour. This could partly explain why our search history is different in work compared to our personal laptop at home: A work environment is different than a personal environment which means our search behaviour will also be different because of our environment.

Photo illustrating the connection between user interface, search functionality and content. Click image for source.

Photo illustrating the connection between user interface, search functionality and content. Click image for source.

What might influence why we search?

Studies of information needs began at the end of the 1940s when information needs developed (Odini 1993:29). Some general factors of informational needs were also identified by Odini (1993) and they include:

  • What source is required and what format does the user want?
  • Any background information on the user (e.g. motivation, occupation, location)?
  • The social, political, economic factors which could affect a search.
  • What will this informational need be a consequence of?

Examples of information needs

Analysing the horse-meat scandal in the UK and Europe illustrates that social and economic factors play a large part in what we, as a population, searched for. In addition, our need to find out whether or not horse-meat was “bad” for us was one of the ultimate consequences of our information needs (bullet point four above). So we can see that if something happens to our environment then we will become influenced by this environment which also impacts on what we might search for.

The device we use also impacts user interaction which has a direct affect on our information needs. This is illustrated in the table below in which mobile devices are emphasized.

Table showing mobile information needs.

Table showing mobile information needs. Click table for source.

Complex information needs

Simply searching for information is actually a complex process because the searcher does not search without thinking what they want (information on [subject-z] or a photo of [item-a]). This complex process is further complicated by information itself: Wilson (1981) identified that information does not have a single definition which makes it difficult to distinguish because information science argues that their are three main types of information: data; information and knowledge (wisdom is often considered as the fourth type of information). So “finding information” is not accurate because sometimes we might search-to-seek for data, raw facts and figures of sports results, or to learn a new concept by “finding knowledge”.

Information needs, in summary, are influenced by our environment which affects what type of information-seeking behaviour we have. SERPs further complicate this because depending upon our mood we might want to separate facts from advice and/or opinions (Wilson 1981). Information needs shapes why we search (if you want to find out how we search read the keyword searching post).

To read a different angle on information needs you can read Wikipedia’s article.

Posted by Gerald Murphy

References

  1. Odini, C. (1993) Trends in Information Needs and Use Research. Library Review. 42(7) pp. 29 — 37
  2. Wikipedia. (no date) Information needs. [Online] [Accessed on 29th May 2013] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_needs
  3. Wilson, T.D. (1981) On user studies and information needs. Journal of Documentation. 37(1)
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