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How staff look for documents

James Robertson on how staff look for documents:

Observation of typical working environments has identified that there (at least) four different situations in which staff look for documents: known-item searching unknown-item searching own documents other people's documents...

From my own observation on information use in an engineering company, many project managers and engineers resorted to using documents stored on their PC as a starting point for creating project-specific templates and forms. These people have been working in this company for many years and in many different projects that they have created their own palette and find it easier to write out documents from this palette than to search for generic documents on the intranet. This process is much like what Stephen Johnson has written about in this NY Times piece called Tool for Thought. He writes about how new software is changing his writing process:

The raw material the software relies on is an archive of my writings and notes, plus a few thousand choice quotes from books I have read over the past decade: an archive, in other words, of all my old ideas, and the ideas that have influenced me. Having all this information available at my fingerprints does more than help me find my notes faster. Yes, when I'm trying to track down an article I wrote many years ago, it's now much easier to retrieve. But the qualitative change lies elsewhere: in finding documents I've forgotten about altogether, documents that I didn't know I was looking for.

Johnson's view here could help in designing more usable intranet structures for these kinds of people who have special combinatorial needs rather than simple search and use needs.

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