Users' information behaviour - a gender perspective

Abstract: Steinerová & Šušol (2007) use gender difference, an admittedly problematic social construction, as a nonetheless helpful lens through which to frame information behavior.

They first summarize previous research on gender differences in information behavior. Among the findings noted are that, when using technology, women:

  • prefer social collaboration;
  • prefer contextual information;
  • prefer personal identification;
  • use more emotional perception and context, but suffer from lower self-confidence in technical proficiency and language;
  • use a wider vocabulary and multiple syntactic relationships, rather than Boolean logic;
  • have ways of knowing that are non-linear, non-hierarchical and often based on context, connectedness and intuition;
  • are more patient readers (yet spend less time on preparation of strategies) than men;
  • prefer group work, conceptualizing of information need as a social event;
  • judge more information relevant than men do;
  • are more willing to pay for sources;
  • behave more interactively with systems;
  • express more computer anxiety and feelings of lower self-efficacy.
  • and have patterns of information use marked by the following principles: collaboration, social networking, flexibility and movement, inclusion into community, contextuality and personal engagement.

The authors then explain their basic qualitative research questions about four aspects of information behavior. They also note the small, Slovakian, academic nature of their user sample.

Next, they identify the cognitive, affective, and social components that led them to create the following variables to assess in their research:

  • first orientation,
  • cooperation,
  • perception of information quality,
  • depth of information processing,
  • time,
  • organization,
  • relevance judgments and
  • emotions.

They found that the women in the study:

  • use librarians’ help, catalogues and reference works more than men;
  • prefer encyclopedias and monographs to professional papers;
  • are more patient in their seeking, but also perceived the lack of time more intensely;
  • have stronger uneasiness, doubt, anxiety, confusion, disappointment than men, as well as correspondingly greater relief upon completion;
  • cooperated with colleagues more;
  • were more optimistic and curious, but also more fearful than men;
  • show a higher use of the internet at work;
  • show a lower use of electronic resources than men, though they tend to trust the reliability of their institution’s resources more.

They found no significant difference in search personality types by gender.


The most useful take-away from Steinerová and Šušol’s (2007) article is that “women’s ways of knowing”, or those ways of accessing and evaluating information which are traditionally ascribed to or socialized into the personalities of women, have been understudied and, thus, often not included in the design of information technology. To include these information behaviors, designers of research guides should emphasize:

  • collaboration,
  • social networking,
  • simple and encouraging vocabulary,
  • contextualization, and
  • the use of intuition.

Steinerová, Jela, & Šušol, Jaroslav (2007). Users' information behaviour - a gender perspective. Information Research, 12(3), 27. Retrieved September 13, 2008, from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts Full Text.