A study of the use of simulated work task situations in interactive information retrieval evaluations: a meta-evaluation

Pia Borlund ( University of Copenhagen Aalborg Denmark )

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 18 March 2016



The paper reports a study of how the test instrument of a simulated work task situation is used in empirical evaluations of interactive information retrieval (IIR) and reported in the research literature. In particular, we are interested to learn whether the requirements of how to employ simulated work task situations are followed, and whether these requirements call for further highlighting and refinement.


In order to study how simulated work task situations are used, the research literature in question is identified. This is done partly via citation analysis by use of Web of Science®, and partly by systematic search of online repositories. On this basis, 67 individual publications were identified and they constitute the sample of analysis.


The analysis reveals a need for clarifications of how to use simulated work task situations in IIR evaluations. In particular, with respect to the design and creation of realistic simulated work task situations. There is a lack of tailoring of the simulated work task situations to the test participants. Likewise, the requirement to include the test participants’ personal information needs is neglected. Further, there is a need to add and emphasize a requirement to depict the used simulated work task situations when reporting the IIR studies.

Research limitations/implications

Insight about the use of simulated work task situations has implications for test design of IIR studies and hence the knowledge base generated on the basis of such studies.


Simulated work task situations are widely used in IIR studies, and the present study is the first comprehensive study of the intended and unintended use of this test instrument since its introduction in the late 1990’s. The paper addresses the need to carefully design and tailor simulated work task situations to suit the test participants in order to obtain the intended authentic and realistic IIR under study.


Borlund, P. (2016), "A study of the use of simulated work task situations in interactive information retrieval evaluations: a meta-evaluation", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 72 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-06-2015-0068

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