A nonlinear model of information-seeking behavior

Abstract: In contrast to discipline-specific, stage-based models of information behavior, Foster (2004) interviews interdisciplinary information seekers, and proposes a non-linear and cyclical model. His model describes three core processes and three levels of contextual interaction that are dynamic, shifting, and without an inherent sequence of occurrence.

The levels of context are:

  • external – which includes social, organizational, time, money, navigation issues, and access to sources;
  • internal – including feelings, thoughts, coherence, and prior knowledge and experience; and
  • cognitive approach – characterized among interdisciplinary information seekers as generally open, flexible, holistic, and nomadic.

The core processes are:

  • opening – moving from a state of orientation to actually seeking, exploring and revealing information;
  • orientation – focusing on identification and figuring out where to look; and
  • consolidation – judging and integrating work and deciding when to stop.

He reminds the reader that the goal of qualitative research is not generalizability, but rich transferability and offers four implications of his model for current and future research.


Foster’s (2004) non-linear approach is much closer to the reality of everyday seekers. As such, attention to the core processes and all levels of context will be VERY helpful in informing my web site design and architecture, as well as the parameters of the actual content. In particular, more attention to the internal context and feelings of an audience would likely be a great aid in improving user information seeking experiences. Insufficient consideration is given to lowering the anxiety for information seekers and to trying to take into account other common emotions seekers experience, like disappointment, frustration, confusion, etc.

Foster, Allen (2004). A nonlinear model of information-seeking behavior. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55(3), 228-237. Retrieved September 13, 2008, from EBSCOHost-Information Science and Technology Abstracts.