Query Behavior: The Impact of Health Literacy, Topic Familiarity and Terminology

  • Carla Teixeira Lopes
  • Cristina Ribeiro
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 7946)


We conducted a user study to analyze how health literacy, topic familiarity and the terminology used in past queries affect query behavior in health searches. We found that users with inadequate health literacy have less success in web searches and show more difficulties in query formulation. These users and the ones not familiar with the topic use medico-scientific terminology less often than users with more health literacy and topic familiarity. We conclude that search engines should help these groups of users in query formulation and, since technical documents stimulate the use of medico-scientific terminology in query reformulation, mechanisms like query suggestion can have long-term benefits.


Web search query formulation health literacy topic familiarity user study 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Zeng, Q., Kogan, S., Ash, N., Greenes, R.A., Boxwala, A.A.: Characteristics of consumer terminology for health information retrieval. Methods of Information in Medicine 41(4), 289–298 (2002)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Souden, M., Rubenstein, E.L.: Listening to patients: how understanding health information use can contribute to health literacy constructs. In: Proceedings of the 73rd ASIS & T Annual Meeting on Navigating Streams in an Information Ecosystem, ASIS&T 2010, vol. 47, Silver Springs, MD, USA, American Society for Information Science (2010)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    USA Department of Health and Human Services: Healthy People 2010, Washington, DC (2000)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wildemuth, B.M.: The effects of domain knowledge on search tactic formulation. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. Technol. 55(3), 246–258 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sihvonen, A., Vakkari, P.: Subject knowledge, thesaurus-assisted query expansion and search success. In: Proceedings of the RIAO 2004 Conference (2004)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Shiri, A.: Topic familiarity and its effects on term selection and browsing in a thesaurus-enhanced search environment. Library Review 54(9), 514–518 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Birru, M.S., Monaco, V.M., Charles, L., Drew, H., Njie, V., Bierria, T., Detlefsen, E., Steinman, R.A.: Internet usage by low-literacy adults seeking health information: an observational analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research 6(3) (September 2004)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    NFIL: What is the NFIL? (2013), (cited March 4, 2013)
  9. 9.
    Kodagoda, N., Wong, B.L.W.: Effects of low & high literacy on user performance in information search and retrieval. In: Proceedings of the 22nd British HCI Group Annual Conference on People and Computers: Culture, Creativity, Interaction, BCS-HCI 2008, vol. 1, pp. 173–181. British Computer Society, Swinton (2008)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Summers, K., Summers, M.: Reading and navigational strategies of web users with lower literacy skills. Proc. Am. Soc. Info. Sci. Tech. 42(1) (January 2005)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kodagoda, N., Wong, B.L.W., Rooney, C., Khan, N.: Interactive visualization for low literacy users: from lessons learnt to design. In: Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2012, pp. 1159–1168. ACM, New York (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lee, S.Y.Y., Bender, D.E., Ruiz, R.E., Cho, Y.I.I.: Development of an easy-to-use spanish health literacy test. Health Services Research 41(4 pt.1), 1392–1412 (2006)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Stichele, R.V.: Multilingual glossary of technical and popular medical terms in nine european languages. Technical report, Heymans Institute of Pharmacology, University of Gent, Gent (December 1995)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Aula, A., Khan, R.M., Guan, Z.: How does search behavior change as search becomes more difficult? In: Proceedings of the 28th International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2010, pp. 35–44. ACM, New York (2010)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carla Teixeira Lopes
    • 1
  • Cristina Ribeiro
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.DEI, Faculdade de EngenhariaUniversidade do PortoPortugal
  2. 2.INESC TECPortugal

Personalised recommendations