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Search Motivation and the Expert/Novice

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading, lately, about what makes an expert and what makes a novice, especially when it comes to information seeking. There are all sorts of theories out there, but today I ran across one that really makes sense to me. There’s a discussion happening on the ngc4lib listserv at the moment called “What’s Better? Dumbed Down or Loaded with Functionality” (don’t get me started on the ideology of “either-or” that’s inherent in this question). Anyway, one responder made a comment that completely resonated with me. It’s a teeny little comment of just a couple of lines, but packed with implications. This person mentioned that even when he fails at a Google search, he continues looking and tweaking his search string because he’s “pretty darn sure” the answer’s there somewhere. This motivates him to keep looking.

And there you have it: one more piece in the expert/novice discussion. Novices have less knowledge of what’s out there to begin with, so they have less motivation to keep tweaking search strategies, so they are less likely to find what they’re looking for. This would also hinder their efforts to come up with viable research topics.

I don’t know how many students have come to me frustrated because they’re having trouble finding good stuff on depression in PsychInfo, and yet they’re unable to narrow their searches to a workable sub-topic because they don’t know what they’ll be able to find. To make matters worse, when they have spent 15 or 20 minutes not finding what they want, they ask if maybe they should change their topics, by which they do NOT mean refine… they actually mean CHANGE to a completely different topic. And then the cycle is repeated.

So file this away in the “how can I help with this” section of your brains. I don’t know how I’m going to help develop experts, yet, but I’m going to give it the old college try (just as soon as all the students get back from their summer vacations…[insert some pining for a summer vacation here]).