Searching the literature : an analysis of an exploratory search task

Soufan, Ayah and Ruthven, Ian and Azzopardi, Leif (2022) Searching the literature : an analysis of an exploratory search task. In: ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval 2022, 2022-03-14 - 2022-03-18, Virtual. (

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Exploratory search is an intuitive concept in interactive information retrieval. While many definitions for Exploratory Search have been proposed, the main dimensions involve high uncertainty with respect to the problem context, the user expertise, and the search process. In this paper, we draw together the different characteristics relating to the three main exploratory dimensions to provide a conceptual model of exploratory search. We build an exploratory search questionnaire using this model. We then use the questionnaire instrument to examine how literature searches are exploratory and what factors influence the exploratory dimensions and characteristics. We provide one of the first detailed investigations into the nature of exploratory literature review searches. Our analysis of the 368 responses reveals that about 84% of the participants described their literature review task as somewhat exploratory or very exploratory in nature. Also, the analysis points to another dimension of the exploratory search, the knowledge gain/change dimension. Furthermore, we investigated how users' experience influences how people rate the exploratory search characteristics (e.g., whether they find surprising information, learn new concepts and keywords).