The language of information need : differentiating conscious and formalized information needs

Ruthven, Ian (2019) The language of information need : differentiating conscious and formalized information needs. Information Processing and Management, 56 (1). pp. 77-90. ISSN 0306-4573 (

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Information need is a fundamental concept within Information Science. Robert Taylor's seminal contribution in 1968 was to propose a division of information needs into four levels: the visceral, conscious, formalized and compromised levels of information need. Taylor's contribution has provided much inspiration to Information Science research but this has largely remained at the discursive and conceptual level. In this paper, we present a novel empirical investigation of Taylor's information need classification. We analyse the linguistic differences between conscious and formalized needs using several hundred postings to four major Internet discussion groups. We show that descriptions of conscious needs are more emotional in tone, involve more sensory perception and contain different temporal dimensions than descriptions of formalized needs. We show that it is possible to differentiate levels of information need based on linguistic patterns and that the language used to express information needs can reflect an individual's understanding of their information problem. This has implications for the theory of information needs and practical implications for supporting moderators of online news groups in responding to information needs and for developing automated support for classifying information needs.


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