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A discourse analysis technique for charting the flow of micro‐information behavior

Diane Nahl (Department of Information and Computer Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 1 May 2007




The purpose of this research is to describe a discourse analysis technique which can be used to analyze text or speech that is produced by people when discussing their information practices.


The method involves coding the phrases and sentences of this interpretive discourse into the three domains of behavior investigated in psychology and education, namely, the affective domain of evaluating and intending, the cognitive domain of appraising and planning, and the sensorimotor domain of noticing, perceiving, and executing or acting.


Samples of discourse from independent published sources were categorized and coded. In every case people's self‐descriptions of their information practices are shown to contain references to their activities in these three domains. A model is presented to depict how information behavior can be represented as a continuous processing flow of satisficing and optimizing behavior. These mental behavioral procedures are practiced by individuals in information settings as members of a group or culture, and are reflected in the verbal accounts they construct about their information behavior.

Research limitations/implications

The model of ecological constructionism, upon which the coding technique is based, needs to be tested in many more diverse contexts. Second, the model needs to address differences in types of information behavior such as searching, computing, blogging, etc., as well as different information settings and purposes of use, e.g. online shopping, doing job tasks with the computer, etc.

Practical implications

The technique can theoretically be automated and applied to the processing of large volumes of text produced daily in the online environment. The results yield a type of average digital code that can serve as an index of people's information behaviors in these diverse settings with regard to their affective, cognitive and sensorimotor activities.


The model or theory was constructed by integrating the concepts of “satisficing” and “optimizing” in decision making with research in information behavior, human ecology, social cognitive theory and ethnomethodology. The model is comprehensive and general enough to provide a potentially useful common topical reference chart for human studies in information science.



Nahl, D. (2007), "A discourse analysis technique for charting the flow of micro‐information behavior", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 63 No. 3, pp. 323-339.



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Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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