Topic familiarity and its effects on term selection and browsing in a thesaurus‐enhanced search environment

Ali Shiri (Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Publication date: 1 December 2005



To evaluate the extent to which familiarity with search topics affects the ways in which users select and browse search terms in a thesaurus‐enhanced search setting.


An experimental methodology was adopted to study users’ search behaviour in an operational information retrieval environment.


Topic familiarity and subject knowledge influence some search and interaction behaviours. Searches involving moderately and very familiar topics were associated with browsing around twice as many thesaurus terms as was the case for unfamiliar topics.

Research limitations/implications

Some search behaviours such as thesaurus browsing and term selection could be used as an indication of user levels of topic familiarity.

Practical implications

The results of this study provide design implications as to how to develop personalized search interfaces where users with varying levels of familiarity with search topics can carry out searches.


This paper establishes the importance of topic familiarity characteristics and the effects of those characteristics on users’ interaction with search interfaces enhanced with semantic tools such as thesauri.



Shiri, A. (2005), "Topic familiarity and its effects on term selection and browsing in a thesaurus‐enhanced search environment", Library Review, Vol. 54 No. 9, pp. 514-518.

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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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