An investigation into the web searching strategies used by postgraduate students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus.
The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate the Web search strategies used to retrieve information from the Web by postgraduate students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus in order to address the weaknesses of undergraduate students with regard to their Web searching strategies. The study attempted to determine the Web search tactics used by postgraduate students, the Web search strategies (i.e. combinations of tactics) they used, how they determined whether their searches were successful and the search tool they preferred. In addition, the study attempted to contribute toward building a set of best practices when searching the Web. The sample population consisted of 331 postgraduate students, yielding a response rate of 95%. The study involved a two-phased approach adopting a survey in Phase 1 and interviews in the Phase 2. Proportionate stratified random sampling was used and the population was divided into five mutually exclusive groups (i.e., postgraduate diploma, postgraduate certificate, Honours, Master’s and PhD). A pre-test was conducted with ten postgraduate students from the Pietermaritzburg campus. The study revealed that the majority of postgraduate students have been searching the Web for six years or longer and that most postgraduate students searched the Web for information from five to less than ten hours a week. Most respondents gained their knowledge on Web searching through experience and only a quarter of the respondents have been given formal training on Web searching. The Web searching strategies explored contribute to the best practices with regard to Web search strategies, as interviewees were selected based on the highest number of search tactics used and they have several years of searching experience. The study was also able to identify the most preferred Web search tool. It is envisaged that undergraduate students can potentially follow these search strategies to improve their information retrieval. This finding could also be beneficial to librarians in developing training modules that assist undergraduate students to use these Web search tools more efficiently. The final outcome of the study was an adaptation Bates’ (1979) model of Information Search Tactics to suit information searching on the Web.