Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Cognitive Psychology: Attention · Decision making · Learning · Judgement · Memory · Motivation · Perception · Reasoning · Thinking  - Cognitive processes Cognition - Outline Index

Information seeking is the process or activity of attempting to obtain information in both human and technological contexts. Information seeking is related to, but yet different from, information retrieval (IR). Information seeking is one sub-process within information behavior. Information behavior is a major area of study, including the evolutionary foundations of information and how it has evolved as a human instinctive behavior. Spink (2010)[1] provides a theoretical framework for information behavior.

Information Retrieval

Traditionally, information retrieval tools have been designed for IR-professionals to enable them to effectively and efficiently retrieve information from a source. It is assumed that the information exists in the source and that a well-formed query will retrieve it (and nothing else). It has been argued that laypersons' information seeking on the web is very different from information retrieval as performed within the IR discourse. Yet, web search engines are built on IR principles. Since the late 1990s a body of research on how casual users interact with web search engines is beginning to form but the topic is far from fully understood. IR can be said to be technology-oriented, focusing on algorithms and issues such as precision and recall. Information seeking may be understood as a more human-oriented and open-ended process than information retrieval. In information seeking, one does not know whether there exists an answer to one's query, so the process of seeking may provide the learning required to satisfy one's information need.

Information Seeking in Different Contexts

Much LIS research has focussed on the information seeking practices of practitioners within various fields of professional work. Studies have been carried out into the information-seeking behaviours of librarians, academics, medical professionals, engineers and lawyers (among others). Much of this research has drawn on the work done by Leckie, Pettigrew (now Fisher) and Sylvain, who in 1996 conducted an extensive review of the Library and Information Science (LIS) literature (as well as the literature of other academic fields) on professionals' information seeking. The authors proposed an analytic model of professionals' information seeking behaviour, intended to be generalizable across the professions, thus providing a platform for future research in the area. The model was intended to "prompt new insights... and give rise to more refined and applicable theories of information seeking" (1996, p. 188). The model has been adapted by Wilkinson (2001) who proposes a model of the information seeking of lawyers.

Theories of Information Seeking Behaviour

Main article: Information seeking behavior

A variety of theories of information behaviour - eg. Zipf's Principle of Least Effort, Brenda Dervin's Sense Making, Elfreda Chatman's Life in the Round - seek to understand the processes that surround information seeking.

A review of the literature on information seeking behaviour shows that information seeking has generally been accepted as dynamic and non-linear (Foster, 2005; Kuhlthau 2006). People experience the information search process as an interplay of thoughts, feelings and actions (Kuhlthau, 2006).

Information seeking has been found to be linked to a variety of interpersonal communication behaviours beyond question-asking, to include strategies such as candidate answers.

Wilson's Nested Model of Conceptual Areas

The concepts of information seeking, information retrieval, and information behaviour are objects of investigation of information science. Within this scientific discipline a variety of studies has been undertaken analyzing the interaction of an individual with information sources in case of a specific information need, task, and context. The research models developed in these studies vary in their level of scope. Wilson (1999) therefore developed a nested model of conceptual areas, which visualizes the interrelation of the here mentioned central concepts.

Wilson defines models of information behavior to be "statements, often in the form of diagrams, that attempt to describe an information-seeking activity, the causes and consequences of that activity, or the relationships among stages in information-seeking behaviour." (1999: 250)

See also


  1. Spink, A. (2010). Information Behavior: An Evolutionary Instinct. Springer. in her book "Information Behavior: An Evolutionary Instinct"

Further reading

  • Dervin, B., & Foreman-Wernet, L., (Eds.) (2003) Sense-making methodology reader: selected writings of Brenda Dervin. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
  • Chatman, E. A. (1999). A theory of life in the round. "Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 207-217.
  • Foster, A. E. (2005). A non-linear model of information seeking behaviour. Information Research, 10(2) paper 222. Available from:
  • Kuhlthau, C. C. (2006). Kuhlthau's information search process. In K. Fisher, S. Erdelez, & L. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 230–234). New Jersey: Information Today.
  • Leckie, G. J. (2006). General model of the information seeking of professionals. In K. Fisher, S. Erdelez, & L. McKechnie (Eds.), Theories of Information Behavior (pp. 230–234). New Jersey: Information Today.
  • Leckie, G. J., Pettigrew, K. E. and Sylvain, C. (1996). Modeling the information seeking of professionals. "Library Quarterly" 66(2), 161-193.
  • Miller, V. D. and Jablin, F. M. (1991). Information seeking during organizational entry: influences, tactics, and a model of the process. The Academy of Management Review 16(1), 92-120.
  • Pomerantz, A. (1988). Offering a candidate answer: an information seeking strategy. Communication Monographs 55(4), 360-73.
  • Wilkinson, M.A. (2001). Information sources used by lawyers in problem-solving: an empirical exploration. "Library & Information Science Research" 23, 257-76.
  • Wilson, T.D. (1999). Models in information behaviour research. Journal of Documentation 55(3): 249-270.
  • Zipf, G. (1949). Human behavior and the principle of least effort: An introduction to human ecology. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Weasley.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).