A re-examination of relevance: toward a dynamic, situational definition*

Linda Schamber, Michael B. Eisenberg, Michael S. Nilan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

324 Scopus citations


Although relevance judgments are fundamental to the design and evaluation of all information retrieval systems, information scientists have not reached a consensus in defining the central concept of relevance. In this paper we ask two questions: What is the meaning of relevance? and What role does relevance play in information behavior? We attempt to address these questions by reviewing literature over the last 30 years that presents various views of relevance as topical, user-oriented, multidimensional, cognitive, and dynamic. We then discuss traditional assumptions on which most research in the field has been based and begin building a case for an approach to the problem of definition based on alternative assumptions. The dynamic, situational approach we suggest views the user - regardless of system - as the central and active determinant of the dimensions of relevance. We believe that relevance is a multidimensional concept; that it is dependent on both internal (cognitive) and external (situational) factors; that it is based on a dynamic human judgment process; and that it is a complex but systematic and measurable phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)755-776
Number of pages22
JournalInformation Processing and Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Media Technology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Library and Information Sciences


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