The goal of the study was to understand how researchers use books and other source materials in libraries in order to inform the design of technology to support their research activities. Research students were chosen as participants because we believed that they spent a large amount of time transcribing or photocopying information from printed documents for the purposes of writing papers or theses. Most of the published literature had focused on the search and retrieval of information and on note-making from lectures. Little attention had been paid to the research process as a whole, note-making from printed texts or the re-use of information for writing. In contrast, this study was conducted to examine all aspects of students' research activities by capturing representative data about their work.

The Study

Twenty-five postgraduate research students at the University of Cambridge participated in the study. Participants were asked to complete a diary of their document-related activities during a working day at the library as well as any document-related research activities undertaken elsewhere. At the end of their working day they were interviewed about their research activities, using their diary entries, and the motivations behind these activities were explored.


Our findings indicated that the research process could be characterised as a complex process of interacting activities. These are illustrated in Figure 1.

Uses of Information

Information was recorded for a variety of purposes, including the focussing of attention, the facilitation of encoding, clarification, interpretation, reference, review and re-use. Researchers employed a variety of information recording strategies, e.g. note-making and the annotation of sources and photocopies. A mixture of paraphrased and verbatim information was typically recorded. Paraphrased notes were used as a means of interacting and interpreting texts. Verbatim notes were used for quotations and to preserve an author's wording for future interpretation, thereby avoiding distorting the meaning.

Materials Used

Researchers used a range of materials, including books, journals, pamphlets, microfilm, on-line and bound catalogues, the Internet, personal and portable computers, notebooks and index cards. This necessitated frequent switching between media to either transfer or manipulate information, according to the strengths and limitations of different forms of media. For example, written compositions were universally created on a computer, but review and amendments were conducted using printouts of the compositions. There was a noticeable reluctance to invest time in learning to use new technology among many researchers.

Factors Affecting the Work

A number of factors were found to influence researchers' decisions about their research activities. The principal factors that contributed to the decision-making process were temporal and financial costs. Other influencing factors included library facilities and policies, and the functional and aesthetic properties of different environments (e.g. availability of materials, distance and architectural features).


Implications for the design of supporting technology have been summarsied in a [CHI] Paper. The main implication is the need to provide some means of facilitating the transfer, manipulation, review and re-use of information. In view of the interactions between the different stages of the research process, any introduction of new technology will need to be carefully integrated with students' existing research activities in order to ensure that it has a net benefit.