Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Commuications and Arts


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Supervisor

Professor Lelia Green


This research grew from two frustrations. The first was the personal frustration experienced when attempting to find information on websites; especially government websites. Often the sites were loaded down with all sorts of information such as corporate organisation charts and press releases but lacked the information which would allow clients to interact effectively with the agency or meet their information needs and move on. The second frustration was that of Edith Cowan University students who battled with a diverse, overlapping and incomplete set of both online and paper based resources as they sought to make decisions about their selections of supporting studies. Both frustrations arose from a lack of user centeredness in the design and construction of the information services provided. A solution would be to establish an effective and efficient method to find out what information users of online information services really needed in order to solve the problems which brought them to the sites in the first place. The sense-making metatheoretic approach of Brenda Dervin with its accompanying timeline interview methodology suggested itself as an in-depth way to elicit the information needs of potential users of online information services. However, timeline interview protocols require long, complex and highly structured interviews. This study, as a result, developed as a critical review of sense-making in the context of the timeline interview by comparing the insights into information needs obtained from timeline interviews with those of three, more widely used, information gathering methods; survey, semi-structured interview and focus group. Students, mainly from the Edith Cowan University Schools of Communication and Multimedia and Computer and Information Science, were asked about their information needs in relation to choosing supporting studies as required by their course structures. All data collection methods were analysed using the same qualitative content analysis techniques. The outcome showed a high degree of consistency between the information needs elicited by all four data collection methods. In addition, the timeline interviews did not identify any major information needs not found by the alternative methods. Another notable finding was that respondents to all four data collection methods expressed a strong preference for speaking to a real live person as a way of meeting their information needs. This goes against conventional view of the technology preferences of younger people. The time and resources required to carry out and analyse the timeline interviews were also much greater than for any of the other data collection methods. The implications for the designers of online information services are that many people are perfectly capable of explicating their information needs regardless of the way in which those needs are elicited. That being the case, the cheapest and quickest method chosen is likely to provide useful insight into information needs. A final implication is that online services which provide links to real people via technologies such as social networking , voice or video contact are the most likely to give users a feeling of assurance about the information they obtain


Paper Location