Search effort degrades search output but improves task outcome
We analyzed how effort in searching is associated with search output and task outcome. In a field study, we examined how students' search effort for an assigned learning task was associated with precision and relative recall, and how this was associated to the quality of learning outcome. The study subjects were 41 medical students writing essays for a class in medicine. Searching in Medline was part of their assignment. The data comprised students' search logs in Medline, their assessment of the usefulness of references retrieved, a questionnaire concerning the search process, and evaluation scores of the essays given by the teachers. Pearson correlation was calculated for answering the research questions. Finally, a path model for predicting task outcome was built. We found that effort in the search process degraded precision but improved task outcome. There were two major mechanisms reducing precision while enhancing task outcome. Effort in expanding Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) terms within search sessions and effort in assessing and exploring documents in the result list between the sessions degraded precision, but led to better task outcome. Thus, human effort compensated bad retrieval results on the way to good task outcome. Findings suggest that traditional effectiveness measures in information retrieval should be complemented with evaluation measures for search process and outcome.