The development of a model of information seeking behaviour of students in higher education when using internet search engines.
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This thesis develops a model of Web information seeking behaviour of postgraduate students with a specific focus on Web search engines' use. It extends Marchionini's eight stage model of information seeking, geared towards electronic environments, to holistically encompass the physical, cognitive, affective and social dimensions of Web users' behaviour. The study recognises the uniqueness of the Web environment as a vehicle for information dissemination and retrieval, drawing on the distinction between information searching and information seeking and emphasises the importance of following user-centred holistic approaches to study information seeking behaviour. It reviews the research in the field and demonstrates that there is no comprehensive model that explains the behaviour of Web users when employing search engines for information retrieval. The methods followed to develop the study are explained with a detailed analysis of the four dimensions of information seeking (physical, cognitive affective, social). Emphasis is placed on the significance of combined methods (qualitative and quantitative) and the ways in which they can enrich the examination of human behaviour. This is concluded with a discussion of methodological issues. The study is supported by an empirical investigation, which examines the relationship between interactive information retrieval using Web search engines and human information seeking processes. This investigates the influence of cognitive elements (such as learning and problem style, and creative ability) and affective characteristics (e. g. confidence, loyalty, familiarity, ease of use), as well as the role that system experience, domain knowledge and demographics play in information seeking behaviour and in user overall satisfaction with the retrieval result. The influence of these factors is analysed by identifying users' patterns of behaviour and tactics, adopted to solve specific problems. The findings of the empirical study are incorporated into an enriched information-seeking model, encompassing use of search engines, which reveals a complex interplay between physical, cognitive, affective and social elements and that none of these characteristics can be seen in isolation when attempting to explain the complex phenomenon of information seeking behaviour. Although the model is presented in a linear fashion the dynamic, reiterative and circular character of the information seeking process is explained through an emphasis on transition patterns between the different stages. The research concludes with a discussion of problems encountered by Web information seekers which provides detailed analysis of the reasons why users express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the results of Web searching, areas in which Web search engines can be improved and issues related to the need for students to be given additional training and support are identified. These include planning and organising information, recognising different dimensions of information intents and needs, emphasising the importance of variety in Web information seeking, promoting effective formulation of queries and ranking, reducing overload of information and assisting effective selection of Web sites and critical examination of results.