oa South African Journal of Information Management - Uncovering web search tactics in South African higher education : original research

Volume 17, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2078-1865
  • E-ISSN: 1560-683X



The potential of the World Wide Web ('the Web') as a tool for information retrieval in higher education is beyond question. Harnessing this potential, however, remains a challenge, particularly in the context of developing countries, where students are drawn from diverse socio-economic, educational and technological backgrounds.

The purpose of this study is to identify the Web search tactics used by postgraduate students in order to address the weaknesses of undergraduate students with regard to their Web searching tactics. This article forms part of a wider study into postgraduate students' information retrieval strategies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus, South Africa.
The study utilised the mixed methods approach, employing both questionnaires (Phase 1) and structured interviews (Phase 2), and was largely underpinned by Bates's model of information search tactics. This article reports and reflects on the findings of Phase 1, which focused on identifying the Web search tactics employed by postgraduate students.
Findings indicated a preference for lower-level Web search tactics, despite respondents largely self-reporting as intermediate or expert users. Moreover, the majority of respondents gained their knowledge on Web searching through experience and only a quarter of respondents have been given formal training on Web searching.
In addition to contributing to theory, it is envisaged that this article will contribute to practice by informing the design of undergraduate training interventions to proactively address the information retrieval challenges faced by novice users. Subsequent papers will report on Phase 2 of the study.

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