January 25, 2016 | Graham Walton, Assistant Director (Academic and User Services), Library, and Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Information Management, Loughborough University, U.K.

Digital research practices: the real user experience


"Unless we understand the experiences the users have when they search for information, we will really struggle to provide the right services." Graham Walton, editor of New Review of Academic Librarianship.


As a journal editor you want your journal to be read. But in a world of ever growing resources, available at the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen, how do researchers get to the information they need? And how can this experience be improved?

Launching today is Digital Research Practices: the real user experience, a six-month long collaborative project between Taylor & Francis and Loughborough University's Library, Publishing Academic Department and Graduate School.

The project aims to find out how we can help and improve researchers’ experiences in discovering and navigating online content, a key part of any researcher’s working life. Ten Ph.D. researchers from a wide range of disciplines, and at different stages of their Ph.D. completion, are taking part, keeping diaries of how they conduct research online.

Graham Walton, Assistant Director of Academic and User Services at Loughborough University, comments that one of the challenges facing publishers and editors is that, although "it is easy to get statistics on downloads and site hits… that only gives a small part of the picture. This project will give us insight [into the user experience] that has long been needed."

Read on to find out more.


From Graham Walton, Assistant Director (Academic and User Services) and editor of New Review of Academic Librarianship

A significant (and time consuming) portion of any research project is devoted to finding, reading, and referencing literature which is relevant to your activities. But particularly for those at the start of their career, where do they start? How do they build the skills and knowledge to do this effectively? In a digital world, with a seemingly endless array of options for where and how to search online, how do you go from browsing to filtering so you get the information you need? That’s the question Loughborough University and Taylor & Francis are looking to explore over the next six months, as Ph.D. students keep diaries of their online research activities, and take part in a focus group, to offer a bird’s eye view of the challenges and opportunities for researchers today.

What is the project about?

The increase in digital information is taking place at a very fast rate, and is affecting many peoples’ work. Digital information has to be provided in an understandable and intelligible way to make it as useable as possible. So, it is important to have an insight into how people find the right information, and also what they do with it once they have found it.

Why are Ph.D. students the focus for the study?

Having access to digital information is a crucial part of Ph.D. students' research. They need to know who the key names are in their research area, and also what other research has been completed in their field. As their research develops, it is also important for them to find out what is current. The knowledge base for many academic disciplines is becoming more and more digital, and researchers are also using technologies to store and present the information they find.

What will the students do?

Most of the data from students will be gathered through them completing an online diary. Each month, they will be asked a series of standard questions about the type of information seeking they needed to do that month - where they started, what resources they used, and crucially, what “journey” they took to reach the information they used. There is an additional open question on a topic that changes each month, exploring questions such as:

  • Are print journals still relevant to research?
  • How do you manage the information you find? What tools are useful?
  • Are you aware of the different publishers’ platforms? What do you like or dislike about them?
  • How do you use the different library websites in your research?
  • Is social media a good way to keep up to date, or a distraction?

A focus group will be held in March 2016, where aspects will be explored in more detail. Each of the ten students involved with the project have been allocated a Loughborough mentor who will provide support during the project.

How do I find out about the project's findings?

From academic papers to blog posts, conferences and seminars, we plan to share the findings widely with the academic, library and publishing community. You can also read more about the students taking part in the study in our regular Ph.D. profiles series, starting with Charlotte Jais.

How do I find out more about the project?

The study is multi-disciplinary and has a steering group made up of staff from Taylor & Francis staff and Loughborough University’s Library, Publishing Academic Department and Graduate School.

Either of the following two people can provide more information:

Published: January 25, 2016 | Author: Graham Walton, Assistant Director (Academic and User Services), Library, and Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Information Management, Loughborough University, U.K. | Category: Front page, Managing my journal, News and ideas | Tagged with: