This chapter presents recommendations for reporting context in studies of Web usage including Web browsing behavior. These recommendations consist of eight categories of contextual information crucial to the reporting of results: user characteristics, temporal information, Web browsing environment, nature of the Web browsing task, data collection methods, descriptive data reporting, statistical analysis, and results in the context of prior work. This chapter argues that the Web and its user population are constantly growing and evolving. This changing temporal context can make it difficult for researchers to evaluate previous work in the proper context, particularly when detailed information about the user population, experimental methodology, and results is not presented. The adoption of these recommendations will allow researchers in the area of Web browsing behavior to more easily replicate previous work, make comparisons between their current work and previous work, and build upon previous work to advance the field.
A variety of Web browsing behaviors have been studied since the mid 1990’s via a variety of methodological approaches. However, although standard recommendations for the reporting of results are used in other research domains, none exist for reporting of the methodological details and results for studies of Web browsing behavior. In this section, we first discuss standardized reporting of results. We then present the seminal papers in the field of Web browsing behavior and provide temporal context with respect to the Web browsing environment and user population at the time of the seminal studies. We also discuss methods of observing users’ Web browsing behavior, as these will impact the data collected.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Study Instruments: The research tools used to collect the study data. For studies of Web usage, these usually include logging software which may be located client-side, server-side or accessed through a proxy server.
Population Characteristics: Attributes of the participant population including such factors as age, sex, background, occupation, Web experience and sample size. Individual differences in Web browsing behaviour may arise as a result of such characteristics.
Study Setting: Description of the study environment including the location and experimental setup. For studies of web usage, this includes the browsing environment as well as any visible data collection methods.
Study Context: Contextual factors which may impact results of a study. For studies of Web usage, these factors include the temporal context of the study, the study setting, the browsing environment, the task, the data collection methods used, the study instruments and metrics captured, and the characteristics of the population studied.
Temporal Context: Temporal information which may impact interpretation of a study. At different points in time, different browsing environments and activities emerge and become part of users’ experiences. Temporal factors which can be reported include the date of the study and duration of the study.
Browsing Environment: Description of the context within which Web browsing occurs. For studies of Web usage this includes the Web browser and its associated tools (e.g., history, specialized toolbars), the task, and the motivation for conducting the browsing.
Descriptive Data Reporting: Providing descriptive details about the raw data gathered to afford readers with a rich understanding of the Web browsing behaviors captured.
Browsing Task: Details about the browsing task given to the participant, including the participant’s goals. The task can be focused (e.g. information searching), more casual browsing, or may be purely navigational. The task can be directed closely by the researcher or be opportunistic and motivated by the needs of the participant.