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Queries in authentic work tasks: the effects of task type and complexity

Miamaria Saastamoinen (School of Information Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)
Kalervo Järvelin (School of Information Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 10 October 2016



The purpose of this paper is to investigate information retrieval (IR) in the context of authentic work tasks (WTs), as compared to traditional experimental IR study designs.


The participants were 22 professionals working in municipal administration, university research and education, and commercial companies. The data comprise 286 WTs and 420 search tasks (STs). The data were collected in natural situations. It includes transaction logs, video recordings, interviews, observation, and daily questionnaires.


The analysis included the effects of WT type and complexity on the number of STs, queries, search keys and types of queries. The findings suggest that simple STs are enough to support most WTs. Complex WTs (vs more simple ones) and intellectual WTs (vs communication, support and editing WTs) include more STs than other WT categories.

Research limitations/implications

Further research should address the problems related to controllability of field studies and enhance the use of realistic WT situations in test-based studies, as well.


The study is an attempt to bring traditional IR studies and realistic research settings closer to each other. Using authentic WTs when studying IR is still rare. The representativeness of the WT/ST types used in interactive IR experiments should be carefully addressed: in the work flow, people seldom consciously recognise separate “STs”. This means that STs may mainly be an academic construct even to the point that studying IR without a decent context does violence to the further understanding of the phenomenon.



The authors wish to thank Heljä Franssila (University of Tampere) for her cooperation in the data collection phase.


Saastamoinen, M. and Järvelin, K. (2016), "Queries in authentic work tasks: the effects of task type and complexity", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 72 No. 6, pp. 1114-1133.



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