What is Browsing?

Browsing is the activity of engaging in a series of glimpses, each of which exposes the browser to objects of potential interest; depending on interest, the browser may or may not examine more closely one or more of the (physical or represented) objects; this examination, depending on interest, may or may not lead the browser to (physically or conceptually) acquire the object.

Marcia J. Bates


Ellis: Information Gathering Behaviour

Ellis (1987, 1989) carried out a study in which he used semi-structured interviews for data collection and Glaser and Strauss’s grounded theory for data analysis. His research resulted in a pattern of information-seeking behavior among social scientists that included six generic features:

  • Starting: comprising those activities characteristic of the initial search for information such as identifying references that could serve as starting points of the research cycle. These references often include sources that have been used before as well as sources that are expected to provide relevant information. Asking colleagues or consulting literature reviews, online catalogs, and indexes and abstracts often initiate starting activities.
  • Chaining: following chains of citations or other forms of referential connection between materials or sources identified during “starting” activities. Chaining can be backward or forward. Backward chaining takes place when references from an initial source are followed. In the reverse direction, forward chaining identifies, and follows up on, other sources that refer to an original source.
  • Browsing: casually looking for information in areas of potential interest. It not only includes scanning of published journals and tables of contents but also of references and abstracts of printouts from retrospective literature searches.
  • Differentiating: using known differences (e.g., author and journal hierarchies or nature and quality of information) between sources as a way of filtering the amount of information obtained.
  • Monitoring: keeping abreast of developments in an area by regularly following particular sources (e.g., core journals, newspapers, conferences, magazines, books, and catalogs).
  • Extracting: activities associated with going through a particular source or sources and selectively identifying relevant material from those sources (e.g., sets of journals, series of monographs, collections of indexes, abstracts or bibliographies, and computer databases).

Lokman I. Meho & Helen R. Tibbo: Modeling the Information-Seeking Behavior of Social Scientists: Ellis’s Study Revisited (PDF)


In other words … (Ellis 1993?):

  1. Starting: identifying sources of interest.
  2. Chaining: following leads from an initial source.
  3. Browsing: scanning documents or sources for interesting information.
  4. Differentiating: assessing and organising sources.
  5. Monitoring: keeping up-to-date on an area of interest by tracking new developments in known sources such as journals.
  6. Extracting: identifying (and using) material of interest in sources.
  7. Verifying: checking the accuracy and reliability of information.
  8. Ending: concluding activities.

Information seeking behaviour

Model of user experience while searching information (six stages):

  1. Initiation: The user becomes concious of a gap in knowledge. Feelings of uncertainty and apprehension are common; the main task is to recognize a need for information.
  2. Selection: Ubncertainty often gives way to feelings of optimism and a readiness to begin searching. The task is to identify and select the topic to be investigated. Thoughts are forward-looking and attempt to predict an outcome.
  3. Exploration: Feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and doubt return. The general inability to precisely express an information need commonly results in an awkward interaction with the system.
  4. Formulation: Rising confidence ion decreasing uncertainty mark a turning point in the process. Forming a focus becomes the chief task as thoughts become clearer.
  5. Collection: Interaction with the information system is most effective and efficient. Decisions about the scope and focus of the topic have been made and a sense of direction sets in. Confidence continues to increase.
  6. Presentation: The goal now is to complete the search and fulfil the information need. A sense of relief is common as well as satisfaction and dissatisfaction (in the case of a negative outcome). Thoughts center on synthesizing and internalizing what was learned.

By Carol C. Kuhlthau, cited in Kalbach (2007, p.47)