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Liveblogging CAIS 2008: Approaching Navigational Cues of Web Documents from Relevance Theory and Genre Theory June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC.
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Lei Zhang, PhD Student, UBC SLAIS

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researchers directly for more information on their work. — JRD]

Web documents have implied navigational difficulties, because of their qualities of unclear part/whole relationships, lack of recognizable document structure, etc.

Relevance Theory:

Sperber and Wilson, Relevance: Communication and Cognition (1986/1995), originally dealing with everyday speech utterances. Applied to grammar, humour, media discourses, politeness, translation, etc.

Cognitive systems have developed to maximize the relevance of input. The greater the cognitive effects, the smaller the processing effort required.

Communicative principal of relevance:

“Utterances convey their own presumption of optimal relevance” — It is at least relevant enough to be worth the audience’s processing effort.

  • what is said -> enriched at the explicit level -> complemented at the implicit level -> understood

[The above is my linear interpretation of a complex circular relationship graphed by the presenter. — JRD]

Relevance Theory and Genre

In RT, expectations of relevance guides the hearer towards meaning; in Genre, stable form/content within a particular community

Research Objective

In real reading situations, people often need to use more than one text or a particular detail text. How are cognitive processes involved? How does web document genre matter, at different levels, and how does genre influence the expectation of relevance? How are expectations of relevance represented as strategies of navigating and its relation with reading? Navigation can be viewed as a communicative behaviour in response to the qualities of a web document.

Unit of Genre?

document component, web document, web page, web site, etc.

Different levels of hierarchical structure contain details and users rarely stick to a single navigational strategy.

Examples of 3 online journals randomly selected. I wondered what the distinct characteristics of the genre? There is genre at the level of components, at the level of the document the components belong to, and at the level of the web page where the document is situated. There are some regularities; these are three different articles on three different journals hosted by three different information services, but all of them have a TOC for the article, at the top, or on the left or right sidebars.

Order of Access and Relevancy

What is the order of access, which is the most relevant one?

  • Details < Document Component < Document < Web Page

[This is my linear representation of a graphic which represented these phenomena as circles within circles, getting progressively larger, with “web page” being the largest circle.]

Which level do readers first attend to? Which do they mostly rely on? Which level motivated people to move a level up or down? Which level is closure?

A particular detail might be within one component or across several components of a document, or across components of multiple documents. I propose an integrated conceptual model. This relates genre, relevance, cognitive processes, and communicative behaviour. How do each of these enter into the comprehension process? Genres are perceived at multiple levels and influence the interpretation of the document space and comprehension of information space. My aim is to expand relevance theory in regard to web documents.

The next step will be an empirical study of the cognitive processes involved in document comprehension, looking at genres at multiple levels, expectations of relevance, and navigation patterns, to apply the explanatory power of relevance theory.

Question from the audience: By genre, do you mean the different levels of a document?

Answer: It can be an article, an abstract, a web page, or a web site. I haven’t identified genre at different levels in the literature. An article can be a genre itself, but the presentation style of the particular journal can be a genre in itself; and an abstract and an article may be included in the same document, but they are both genres. Even in the abstract there is a communicative purpose, so if we’re trying to locate a particular detail it might still be related to the surrounding environment, so I wonder what first comes to the reader? What first influences his comprehension or interpretation of the document?

Question from the moderator: You listed “related articles”, is that a genre too? You had it on one of your slides.

Answer: The representations were selected randomly from different journals. I mentioned that even in these three there are some common characteristics on the level of a web page. There are some common elements.

Comment from the audience: It’s hierarchical, like broader and narrower terms.

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