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What makes re-finding information difficult? A study of email re-finding

D. Elsweiler, M. Baillie and Ruthven, I. (2011) What makes re-finding information difficult? A study of email re-finding. In: 33rd European Conference on Information Retrieval (ECIR 2011). Springer-Verlag.

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Re-nding information that has been seen or accessed before is a task which can be relatively straight-forward, but often it can be extremely challenging, time-consuming and frustrating. Little is known, however, about what makes one re-finding task harder or easier than another. We performed a user study to learn about the contextual factors that influence users' perception of task diculty in the context of re-finding email messages. 21 participants were issued re-nding tasks to perform on their own personal collections. The participants' responses to questions about the tasks combined with demographic data and collection statistics for the experimental population provide a rich basis to investigate the variables that can influence the perception of diculty. A logistic regression model was developed to examine the relationships be- tween variables and determine whether any factors were associated with perceived task diculty. The model reveals strong relationships between diculty and the time lapsed since a message was read, remembering when the sought-after email was sent, remembering other recipients of the email, the experience of the user and the user's ling strategy. We discuss what these findings mean for the design of re-nding interfaces and future re-finding research.