Trails across the heterogeneous information environment

Sanna Kumpulainen (School of Information Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 2 September 2014



The purpose of this paper is to aim at modelling the trails, which are search patterns with several search systems across the heterogeneous information environment. In addition, the author seeks to examine what kinds of trails occur in routine, semi-complex and complex tasks, and what barrier types occur during the trail-blazing.


The author used qualitative task-based approach with shadowing of six molecular medicine researchers during six months, and collected their web interaction logs. Data triangulation made this kind of detailed search system integration analysis possible.


Five trail patterns emerged: branches, chains, lists, singles and berrypicking trails. The berrypicking was typical to complex work tasks, whereas the branches were common in routine work tasks. Singles and lists were employed typically in semi-complex tasks. In all kinds of trails, the barriers occurred often during the interaction with a single system, but there was a considerable number of barriers with the malfunctioning system integration, and lacking integration features. The findings propose that the trails could be used to reduce the amount of laborious manual system integration, and that there is a need for support to explorative search process in berrypicking trails.


Research of information behaviour yielding to different types of search patters with several search systems during real-world work task performance in molecular medicine have not been published previously. The author presents a task-based approach how to model search behaviour patterns. The author discusses the issue of system integration, which is a great challenge in biomedical domain, from the viewpoints of information studies and search behaviour.



This research was supported by Academy of Finland grants 124131 and 133021.


Kumpulainen, S. (2014), "Trails across the heterogeneous information environment ", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 70 No. 5, pp. 856-877.

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