How People Approach Information

How People Approach Information

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0152-9.ch004
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Information interaction and interpretation will vary dependent on people’s goals and information needs. These differing goals and information needs shape what information is actually deemed important, and how hard people will work to understand it. As a result, information importance can also differ radically between people. In any particular situation, even after the information has been found and is being considered, factors inherent in human nature come into play to influence the interpretation. This chapter considers some of those factors influencing the ways people approach and interpret information. The white area in Figure 1 shows the area of the HII model relevant to this chapter.
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My definition of usability is identical to my definition of plain language, my definition of reader-focused writing, my definition of document design… We’re here to make a the product work for people—Janice Redish

Figure 1.

HII model—approaching information


The main areas covered in this chapter are:

  • Reacting to Information: How people actually react to information. This can range from a very active to a very passive approach to interpreting it. Some people question all the information and some people prefer to avoid the information altogether.

  • Effort: How much effort people will put into understanding the information and what factors influence their decision to exert that effort.

  • Sufficing: People stop looking for and interpreting information when they are happy with the answer because it fits their information needs or understanding of the situation. The answer is not always sufficient, but people have a hard time judging sufficiency.

  • Multitasking: Multiple tasks pull people in different directions and they can rarely give full attention to interacting with information. Dealing with multiple simultaneous tasks creates its own problems.

  • Salience: Not all information carries the same level of importance. The most salient information needs to be identified and processed.

  • Information Quality: Information must meet a certain level of quality before people will trust it and people must trust it before they will use it. People judge quality based on their perception of its accuracy, completeness, authority, usefulness, and accessibility.

  • Age: Age and its associated changes in cognitive ability change how people interact with information.

  • Novice to Expert: Level of experience and background knowledge change how people interact with information.


Reacting To Information

Different groups of people, or the same person at different times, will approach information differently. What they want and how they expect to acquire information differs. Understanding what information is desired and audience expectations are essential to meeting their information needs and communication goals. Therefore, design teams need to ensure that the information source conforms to both the situational context and the way people approach the information.

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