The Information-Seeking Practices of Engineers: Searching for Documents as well as for People

TitleThe Information-Seeking Practices of Engineers: Searching for Documents as well as for People
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsHertzum, M., and A. Mark Pejtersen
Secondary TitleInformation Processing & Management
ISBN Number0306-4573
Keywordscommunication by engineers, design documentation, information seeking, knowledge, people as information, sources

Engineers get most of their information from colleagues and internal reports. This study investigates how engineers’ information-seeking practices intertwine looking for informing documents with looking for informed people. Based on case studies in two product-development organisations we find that engineers search for documents to find people, search for people to get documents, and interact socially to get information without engaging in explicit searches, This intricate interplay between document and people sources can be explained by the nature of the design task, Many possible solutions are normally available to the designer and in choosing one over the others the designer must take into account a complex set of issues involving both the product as such and its context. However, design documentation seems to be biased toward technical aspects of the chosen solution, while information about the context of the design process is typically not available. Hence: people become a critical source of information because they can explain and argue about why specific decisions were made and what purpose is served by individual parts of the design. While document retrieval is a well-established field, this study concludes by briefly outlining how computer systems could support searches for people. Given the immense practical importance of searches for people there seems to be a large need for such systems and, consequently, for addressing the open research questions involved in designing them.