Think outside the search box: A comparative study of visual and form-based query builders

Svarre, Tanja and Russell-Rose, Tony. 2022. Think outside the search box: A comparative study of visual and form-based query builders. Journal of Information Science, ISSN 0165-5515 [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

Knowledge workers such as healthcare information professionals, legal researchers and librarians need to create and execute search strategies that are comprehensive, transparent and reproducible. The traditional solution is to use proprietary query-building tools provided by literature database vendors. In the majority of cases, these query builders are designed using a form-based paradigm that requires the user to enter keywords and ontology terms on a line-by-line basis and then combine them using Boolean operators. However, recent years have witnessed significant changes in human–computer interaction technologies, and users can now engage with online information systems using a variety of novel data visualisation techniques. In this article, we evaluate a new approach to query building in which users express concepts as objects on a visual canvas and compare this with a traditional form-based query builder in a laboratory-based user study. The results demonstrate the potential of visual interfaces to mitigate some of the shortcomings associated with form-based interfaces and encourage more exploratory search behaviour. They also demonstrate the value of having a temporary ‘scratch’ space in query formulation. In addition, the findings highlight an ongoing need for transparency and reproducibility in professional search and raise further questions about how these properties may best be supported.

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Identification Number (DOI):


Boolean search; professional search; query formulation; systematic review; user experience; user interface

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20 October 2022Accepted
22 December 2022Published Online

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Date Deposited:

20 Jan 2023 17:31

Last Modified:

20 Jan 2023 17:40

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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