Have you ever questioned your information seeking process?

Recording and Recording Schemes

For the purpose of writing an information seeking behaviour diary, I collected thoughts and tasks during research for a university project. The exercise was to elaborate the differences between US and European data protection law. Therefore, I started my usual research approach by searching for keywords on Google and simultaneously browsing Wikipedia articles on this topic for both legal systems. Thereby, I discovered various websites with expert reviews. These helped me to gain a first glimpse of the topic. Having found the keywords and some reliable sources, I started to harvest Medium, a blogging site, in search for user stories, more expert reviews and applications of the framework. Out of my research, at this point I invested 1.5 hours, I was able to find legal frameworks describing data protection efforts for both US and EU. The legal articles as such have not been of very much helped. However, again I was able to enhance my search with new keywords to look for. As I wanted to get a scientific view on the topic as well, I started now to browse Google Scholar. The results of this search have not been very satisfying and after scanning three to four result pages I stopped this searching approach.

With some good sources at hand, I went on to Sakai. As mentioned during class by our lecturer, I new that he had provided some papers as well. Scanning the papers, I realised that nothing entirely new was mentioned. This also showed that my information gathering was successful to this point. Putting the information together, I started a first thread in a Sakai online discussion. Since I was pretty sure that others can help me with their contributions, I wanted to get their view onto the topic. Waiting for some comments on my thoughts, I started to poke student colleagues via Facebook Messenger to participate in the discussion on Sakai. However, it turned out in the end that the discussion was primarily within Facebook Messenger and the Facebook group we created for the organization of the group work concerned with the issue of data protection laws.

In terms of behaviour, I found that I tend to browse and scan as much as possible in the first step. Mostly, at this point I open up 30 browser tabs having papers, articles, Twitter-streams, discussions, social networks or blogs ready to be scanned through. In a second phase I start to deep dive and read the already opened tabs. If the information provided does not apply to what I am searching for within 30–60 seconds, I usually tend to neglect the source and close the tab. However, sometimes the headline is so appealing that these sources come into another round of deep review.

Usually, the first round of searching and quick reading already filters the most important from the not so important information sources. In rare cases, the information seeking stops at this point and the first ideas are written down. This also happened in the case of searching information on data protection law in US and EU. Thereafter, the whole process starts again, now using the gathered information, keywords, concepts and own thoughts on the topic. This brings me to a state within my search, where I have to start organising the sources. This is usually done with bookmarks or via tags in Pocket. The later has shown to be the most successful for my information seeking behaviour, as it also helps to retrieve and index information quickly and make the gathered information keyword searchable. This creates a nice information pool making it easy to convert information into knowledge. Summing up, it looks like a mix of horizontal information seeking and very short viewing make up my digital information seeking process. However, the collection of sources into a tagged/indexed repository like Pocket could also be seen as squirreling behavior (Rowlands, et al., 2008).

The recording and writing of diary has been performed a day after the actual task was performed. This also helped to reflect and find weak points in my information seeking behaviour. Therefore, in the next paragraph I will have a look on the accuracy of the diary.

Accuracy of Diary

Reflecting on my information seeking behaviour the next day helped to digest the whole process over night. Getting a better overview of the 3-hour process helped to increase the accuracy and direct the focus on the most important steps. However, this also implies that not all and every step is described in the dairy. In my opinion, leaving out the least important micro-tasks does not effect the validity of the task description in my opinion.

Therefore, the diary reflects my behaviour very well and moreover outlays the structure behind my behaviour. Since I was not expecting to identify a clear structure in my information seeking, I was quite impressed by the results. Taking this one step further, also some characteristics of digital information seeking behaviour can be found in my diary which, for me, indicates the accuracy and reliability of my notes.

Reflecting the results some days after doing the experiment of searching for similarities and differences in data protection law for US and EU, and writing the dairy, I am still convinced that the diary is a very good representation of my information seeking behaviour. Further, I think my pattern can be applied to most of my information seeking tasks.

With pretty clear and reliable results, I do not think that there would be a better way to record the processes. Since constant note keeping would interrupt my usual flow, I would definitely not try to take notes during the exercise. Further, a dairy or notes taken immediately after the exercise would result in narrowed and biased view on the whole process. Therefore, I would not change anything in the recording of the process.


Time started: 17:00

Describe your task in detail:
Elaborating differences and similarities between current US and EU data protection law.

Describe the situational factors affecting the task:
I was already tired of a tough day a work. Luckily my internet connection is quite quick. Since I managed to work through all open tabs already, also my browser has full power and works fast. However other open to-dos on my list have still been bothering me. I started the information search but had to stop for dinner. Afterwards I continued but then TV interruptedly caught my attention.

What is the ambition level you aim at in the task:
The idea was to finish the information search, working out differences and putting everything into a presentation. Therefore, I had to be very quick and precise with my information seeking and was forced to reduce noise by other upcoming topics during the pre-defined task time slot.

Describe in detail what kind of information you think you need in order to perform the task:
(a) thoughts in the beginning of the task:
I will need a definition for what data protection is. Further, I will have to look on legal frameworks and implementations of the data protection definition/concept for the US and EU separately. Then I will have to look for expert reviews to understand what the legal texts mean and implicate. For me, I also like to have some examples on how a concept is integrated in a real-world environment.

(b) thoughts emerged later during the task:
During my information search, I stumbled upon several articles on Medium. There, also some of the authors seemed to have a deep understanding of the issue. So I looked them up on Medium and I also googled them to get more input. Out of this, I was directed to forums in which a brought discussion of the topic was going on. I did not think of using forums as a source of information before, but in this case it helped a bit to get different views on the topic.

Which channels and sources do you consider (mention also those you won’t use):
(a) thoughts in the beginning of the task:
Since this task seemed pretty similar to previous exercises for university I took the same approach as usual. Starting with Wikipedia and using the sources provided there to navigate to trustworthy information pools like scientific papers or articles of statue. Other than that, I also like to use Medium stories/letters to enlarge my focus and find new key words.

(b) thoughts emerged later during the task:
I could have used forums, student colleagues’ discussion on Facebook messenger better but I won’t use legal articles since they are to difficult to comprehend.

How much time did you use in planning information seeking? Which channels and sources did you use?

Was the whole of the information obtained (a) sufficient for the task or (b) insufficient for the task?
In general, the pages and documents found have helped to gain a deeper understanding of the differences between the two data protection approaches of the US and the EU. Since legal texts are hard to understand, those pieces of information haven’t helped a lot. However, discussions and information on actual applications of the concepts helped to elaborate the gap between the two legal approaches.

Estimate the time spent (a) on information seeking (b) on the whole task.
(a) 3 hours
(b) 4 hours

Model vs. Diary

As mentioned in part two, my information seeking activities relate to general “Google Generation Information Behaviors” identified by Nichols & Rowlands (Nicholas, Rowlands, Clark, & & Williams, 2011). Looking on the digital information seeking patters I found a mix of two groups namely the Web foxes and Web octopus describing my information behaviour pattern best (Nicholas, Rowlands, Clark, & & Williams, 2011). For me, I believe that I am good at finding the right information quickly by surfing fast and going alone in the first place. After having gathered a general understanding through scanning academic papers or general definitions, I like to use social networks or user generated information on blogs to enhance and verify my previous findings. The later is done with keywords and concepts I have identified in the first step. Through bookmarking and indexing/tagging sources with Pocket I can keep track of my search. Since all these steps are tightly connected and the storing phase as well as the enhancement phase are happening quite simultaneously, I can also find the described multi-tasking behaviour within my search pattern. Therefore, I also believe that the diary reflects my internal processes and search intentions.

Lastly, comparing my information behaviour with the Savolainen Model of Everyday Information Seeking, I can see no clear overlap of the model and my information behaviour. Since, this search was done for a university project and I knew that I will track my behaviour which created an artificial setting. Furthermore, since this kind of information behaviour is not an everyday task, I also might have shown a different behaviour. Moreover, the university exercise was mandatory. Therefore, I am not able to apply any type of mastery of life as described in the model. However, some of the models parts do apply such as time constraints, selection of sources and channels as well as orientation of information search (Savolainen, 1995).


Nicholas, D., Rowlands, I., Clark, D., & & Williams, P. (2011). Google Generation II: web behaviour experiments with the BBC. 1(61), 28–45.

Rowlands, I., Nicholas, D., Williams, P., Huntington, P., Fieldhouse, M., & Gunter, B. (2008). The Google generation: the information behavior of the reseracher of the future. Aslib Proceedings, 4(60), 290–310.

Savolainen, R. (1995). Everyday life information seeking: Approaching information seeking in the context of “way of life”. Library & information science research, 3(17), 259–294.