Critisearch for Scholarly Search

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Online search has empowered users with access to vast amounts of information. However, current online interfaces do not permit users to manipulate the hits on a search engine result page (SERP). This leads to the user adapting his/her own search style to suit the search engine instead of being the other way round. We present Critisearch, an online search interface that allows users to manipulate hits by upvoting, downvoting and sorting them such that they can be arranged in a user-defined order. Critisearch was originally developed for middle school children. However, we found an interesting dearth of studies on how graduate students conduct searches. In order to evaluate how the manipulation of hits can benefit users, we conducted a longitudinal study with 10 graduate students who used Critisearch and/or other search engine/s of their choice for conducting the scholarly search over a three week period. Results indicate that using Critisearch for hit manipulation enabled metacognitive scaffolding (plan, filter, sort information) on the search engine interface especially in exploratory search contexts. Critisearch seems to facilitate a conversation with the interface by enabling marking of hits. In addition, Critisearch also appears to promote reflection with the upvote/downvote capabilities for marking of hits available to the user. The hit manipulation and metacognitive scaffolding on the Critisearch interface encourages users to conduct their search tasks in a more breadth-first fashion as opposed to the commonly used depth-first search strategy. Using qualitative analysis, we discovered three distinct types of search tasks that users perform in a scholarly context namely, specific exploration, needle-in-a-haystack and general exploration. This analysis provides a starting point for a better understanding information needs of users in a scholarly context and a classification of search tasks thus, adding to the existing body of literature on nature of online search tasks.

Online search