The impact of task phrasing on the choice of search keywords and on the search process and success

Elena Barsky, Judit Bar-Ilan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


This experiment studied the impact of various task phrasings on the search process. Eighty-eight searchers performed four web search tasks prescribed by the researchers. Each task was linked to an existing target web page, containing a piece of text that served as the basis for the task. A matching phrasing was a task whose wording matched the text of the target page. A nonmatching phrasing was synonymous with the matching phrasing, but had no match with the target page. Searchers received tasks for both types in English and in Hebrew. The search process was logged. The findings confirm that task phrasing shapes the search process and outcome, and also user satisfaction. Each search stage-retrieval of the target page, visiting the target page, and finding the target answer-was associated with different phenomena; for example, target page retrieval was negatively affected by persistence in search patterns (e.g., use of phrases), user-originated keywords, shorter queries, and omitting key keywords from the queries. Searchers were easily driven away from the top-ranked target pages by lower-ranked pages with title tags matching the queries. Some searchers created consistently longer queries than other searchers, regardless of the task length. Several consistent behavior patterns that characterized the Hebrew language were uncovered, including the use of keyword modifications (replacing infinitive forms with nouns), omitting prefixes and articles, and preferences for the common language. The success self-assessment also depended on whether the wording of the answer matched the task phrasing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1987-2005
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • information retrieval
  • online searching
  • query formulation


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