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Nielsen's conclusion: "Users are incredibly bad at finding and researching things on the web. A few years ago, I characterized users' research skills as 'incompetent,' and they’ve only gotten worse over time. 'Pathetic' and 'useless' are words that come to mind after this year's user testing."
His study focused on e-commerce websites, but I think the results would be even worse if we studied user search behavior for academic purposes. His first user had trouble finding a pink iPhone case on Amazon, largely because she was unable to translate her meaning into something that Amazon could understand, or as Nielsen put it, she did not "realize that Amazon uses a full-text search that doesn't understand the meaning of a query."
Nielsen suggests that websites should be designed for "mediocre searchers." I know that the UNC Library is trying hard to do this with its book catalog and Articles+ super search. Sadly, library database vendors aren't as good at this.
What's the solution? At a minimum, be aware that your students aren't as search savvy as you think they are — they are likely not as search savvy as you are.
In an email to faculty, I added: in an ideal world, I'd have you invite me to come talk to you students. An interim step is for you to tell your students to come talk to me (or another librarian) about improving their searches in Google and using better resources like America's News (for news articles) or Communication and Mass Media Complete (for scholarly articles in JOMC areas).
found through Greg Notess' | Search Engine Showdown April 2013 blog post "Searcher Behavior."