The objective of the paper is to amalgamate theories of text retrieval from various research traditions into a cognitive theory for information retrieval interaction. Set in a cognitive framework, the paper outlines the concept of polyrepresentation applied to both the user's cognitive space and the information space of IR systems. The concept seeks to represent the current user's information need, problem state, and domain work task or interest in a structure of causality. Further, it implies that we should apply different methods of representation and a variety of IR techniques of different cognitive and functional origin simultaneously to each semantic fulltext entity in the information space. The cognitive differences imply that by applying cognitive overlaps of information objects, originating from different interpretations of such objects through time and by type, the degree of uncertainty inherent in IR is decreased. Polyrepresentation and the use of cognitive overlaps are associated with, but not identical to, data fusion in IR. By explicitly incorporating all the cognitive structures participating in the interactive communication processes during IR, the cognitive theory provides a comprehensive view of these processes. It encompasses the ad hoc theories of text retrieval and IR techniques hitherto developed in mainstream retrieval research. It has elements in common with van Rijsbergen and Lalmas' logical uncertainty theory and may be regarded as compatible with that conception of IR. Epistemologically speaking, the theory views IR interaction as processes of cognition, potentially occurring in all the information processing components of IR, that may be applied, in particular, to the user in a situational context. The theory draws upon basic empirical results from information seeking investigations in the operational online environment, and from mainstream IR research on partial matching techniques and relevance feedback. By viewing users, source systems, intermediary mechanisms and information in a global context, the cognitive perspective attempts a comprehensive understanding of essential IR phenomena and concepts, such as the nature of information needs, cognitive inconsistency and retrieval overlaps, logical uncertainty, the concept of document, relevance measures and experimental settings. An inescapable consequence of this approach is to rely more on sociological and psychological investigative methods when evaluating systems and to view relevance in IR as situational, relative, partial, differentiated and nonlinear. The lack of consistency among authors, indexers, evaluators or users is of an identical cognitive nature. It is unavoidable, and indeed favourable to IR. In particular, for fulltext retrieval, alternative semantic entities, including Salton et al.'s passage retrieval, are proposed to replace the traditional document record as the basic retrieval entity. These empirically observed phenomena of inconsistency and of semantic entities and values associated with data interpretation support strongly a cognitive approach to IR and the logical use of polyrepresentation, cognitive overlaps, and both data fusion and data diffusion.
Journal of Documentation – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 1, 1996
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