Graduation Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisory Committee

Jiajie Zhang, PhD (Chair); Todd Johnson, PhD; Jane T. Malin, Ph.D.; Hongbin Wang, Ph.D.


User-Computer Interface; Information Storage and Retrieval


People often use tools to search for information. In order to improve the quality of an information search, it is important to understand how internal information, which is stored in user’s mind, and external information, represented by the interface of tools interact with each other. How information is distributed between internal and external representations significantly affects information search performance. However, few studies have examined the relationship between types of interface and types of search task in the context of information search.

For a distributed information search task, how data are distributed, represented, and formatted significantly affects the user search performance in terms of response time and accuracy. Guided by UFuRT (User, Function, Representation, Task), a human-centered process, I propose a search model, task taxonomy. The model defines its relationship with other existing information models. The taxonomy clarifies the legitimate operations for each type of search task of relation data. Based on the model and taxonomy, I have also developed prototypes of interface for the search tasks of relational data. These prototypes were used for experiments.

The experiments described in this study are of a within-subject design with a sample of 24 participants recruited from the graduate schools located in the Texas Medical Center. Participants performed one-dimensional nominal search tasks over nominal, ordinal, and ratio displays, and searched one-dimensional nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio tasks over table and graph displays. Participants also performed the same task and display combination for twodimensional searches.

Distributed cognition theory has been adopted as a theoretical framework for analyzing and predicting the search performance of relational data. It has been shown that the representation dimensions and data scales, as well as the search task types, are main factors in determining search efficiency and effectiveness. In particular, the more external representations used, the better search task performance, and the results suggest the ideal search performance occurs when the question type and corresponding data scale representation match. The implications of the study lie in contributing to the effective design of search interface for relational data, especially laboratory results, which are often used in healthcare activities.

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