Notes: Looking for information

Case, D.O. (2002). Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs, and behavior.  New York: Academic Press.  Chapter 9: Methods: Examples by type.

In this chapter Case reviews the different methodologies employed by research studying information seeking, use, and sense-making. Although he notes a few overall studies that cast a wide net, finding overall proportions, this article is not a survey of all the literature. It instead gathers relevant examples of different types of research. The types of research included case studies, formal and field experiments, mail and Internet surveys, face-to-face and phone interviews, focus groups, ethnographic, and phenomenological studies, diaries, historical studies and content analysis. The were also multiple-method studies and meta-analysis. Case writes about some of the limitations of the different methodologies—for example, case studies have limited variables, focusing on one item or event to the exclusion of others, and they are limited in terms of time as well. The author concludes that most studies assume people make rational choices and that specific variables are more important than context. More qualitative measures are becoming more popular but cannot be generalized.

The author did a particularly good job in finding studies to examine. The best example of this are the experiments. Very few laboratory experiments have been conducted specifically on information use, but there have been many on consumer behavior—and here we consumer behavior studies that involved information gathering for decision making. Another choice I found particularly interesting was the historical research by Colin Richmond that looked at the dissemination of information in England during the Hundred Years’ War. Usually when I think of historical research in social science I think of things like comparing content analysis of newspapers of the 1950s and today. It was interesting to see thing from a historian’s point of view, and also a good reminder that people did not just start needing information with the invention of the Internet. A good, though dense, book on this topic is A Social History of Knowledge by Peter Burke.

The most immediate application of this chapter is in suggesting methodologies to use in different situations. When I’m doing research, I tend to have a bias toward sources that conducted experiments or did survey research. Reading through these cases reminded me of the usefulness of things like case studies and content analysis. Another interesting application of the chapter is in suggesting topics for further study. Although the author doesn’t really build to any general conclusion on the research topics at hand (there is no overall theme to the research) looking at the different conclusions of the different types of studies suggests some interesting questions. For example, since the study by Covell, Uman and Manning suggested that doctors report using books or journals first but in reality turn to colleagues first, how can we reexamine the studies that relied on self-reporting, such as the case study or the surveys? Perhaps some of the tactics used in the consumer research experiments would be a valuable addition.