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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of functional units for information use of scholarly journal articles Zhang, Lei


This research aims to enhance reading effectiveness and efficiency by presenting the readers with the text in the article that is most relevant to a particular information task, rather than presenting the article in its entirety. It applies the idea of the functional unit, the smallest information unit with a distinct function within four major components of scholarly journal articles — Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. First, through a review and analysis of the literature and validation through user surveys, 41 functional units within the four components were identified. Also identified were the relationships between the individual functional units and five information use tasks, and furthermore the relationships among a set of functional units for a particular task. The functional units were classified into three categories (primary, related, additional related) according to how useful they were for each task. Based on this taxonomy, a prototype journal reading system was designed and implemented. Thirty 3rd and 4th year psychology students participated in an experimental study using the prototype system. Content analysis was used to analyze qualitative data collected from retrospective interviews, questionnaire open-ended questions, and screen recordings. A statistical analysis of quantitative data collected via rating scales, logging of time and highlights was also carried out. The answers to comprehension questions were assessed first by content analysis and then by statistical analysis. Participants using the prototype system were significantly more satisfied with the information obtained, highlighted more relevant text, and answered more fully the comprehension questions. The use of functional units was effective in enabling people to focus on specific information and use pieces of relevant information across the article, but not necessarily to move from more relevant to less relevant information. Participants using the prototype system also felt significantly more efficient in obtaining the information. The use of functional units was efficient in enabling people to read less or read selectively. The signaling of functional units seemed to be more effective and efficient for the tasks requiring use of information scattered across articles. This research suggests that information within an article can be organized and presented to benefit readers’ information use.

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