Information retrieval in the workplace : a comparison of professional search practices

Russell-Rose, Tony and Chamberlain, Jon and Azzopardi, Leif (2018) Information retrieval in the workplace : a comparison of professional search practices. Information Processing and Management, 54 (6). pp. 1042-1057. ISSN 0306-4573 (

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Legal researchers, recruitment professionals, healthcare information professionals, and patent analysts all undertake work tasks where search forms a core part of their duties. In these instances, the search task is often complex and time-consuming and requires specialist expertise to identify relevant documents and insights within large domain-specific repositories and collections. Several studies have been made investigating the search practices of professionals such as these, but few have attempted to directly compare their professional practices and so it remains unclear to what extent insights and approaches from one domain can be applied to another. In this paper we describe the results of a survey of a purposive sample of 108 legal researchers, 64 recruitment professionals and 107 healthcare information professionals. Their responses are compared with results from a previous survey of 81 patent analysts. The survey investigated their search practices and preferences, the types of functionality they value, and their requirements for future information retrieval systems. The results reveal that these professions share many fundamental needs and face similar challenges. In particular a continuing preference to formulate queries as Boolean expressions, the need to manage, organise and re-use search strategies and results and an ambivalence toward the use of relevance ranking. The results stress the importance of recall and coverage for the healthcare and patent professionals, while precision and recency were more important to the legal and recruitment professionals. The results also highlight the need to ensure that search systems give confidence to the professional searcher and so trust, explainability and accountability remains a significant challenge when developing such systems. The findings suggest that translational research between the different areas could benefit professionals across domains.