Users' meaning in interpersonal and technology mediated information need specification

Kyunghye Yoon, Michael S. Nilan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This study examined interpersonal information seeking interactions between a user and a source person (e.g., reference librarian, advisor, etc.) and analyzed users' articulations of information need. The central conceptual framework was the concept of topic and comment from the Prague functional linguistic notions of the two necessary dimensions of any linguistic meaning. The objective was to gain insight into the linguistic meaning of users' information need by exploring the functional roles of topic and comment employed in their articulation of need. A total of 28 user-source interactions were recorded to generate transcripts of the interactions and then users were interviewed to obtain user explanations of the meaning of recorded utterances from the interactions. The utterances were content analyzed, clearly showing the essential roles of topic and comment in such interaction. Results showed that topic functioned to describe a subject area briefly as a set of discrete keywords which appeared in the early stages of the interaction. Comment functioned to elaborate what users knew about their need specifying elaborations of context well beyond topic. The discussion here focuses on the utility of comment for the topic-dominant information search technology and system design. Topic has long been considered the main criterion in information organization and retrieval systems which has been carried over to search engines. According to topic-based information search logic, content can be represented as topical terms or keywords to be matched with user query terms. Comment, on the other hand has been neglected in information search logic even though it is the other essential dimension of meaning. The role of comment is seen as a necessary complement to the specification of the user meaning and functions to contextually situate the topical elements which define a more specific concept of the user's information need.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-93
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2010


  • Information retrieval
  • Information seeking
  • Topic and comment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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