Qual Quant (2009) 43:211–224
Examining the ‘point of frustration’. The think-aloud
method applied to online search tasks
Talke Klara Hoppmann
Published online: 22 September 2007
© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007
Abstract By revisiting past research on the think-aloud method; its advantages, drawbacks
and aptness for tracing online search processes will be examined. What emerges from this
review is the need for more attention to detail so as to generate comparable ﬁndings. This is
especially crucial as the method lends itself to both quantitative and qualitative data analysis
and has been employed in a broad range of ﬁelds. Thus, a major concern is to describe in
detail the design, procedure and framework of analysis of a qualitative study concerned with
information needs of professionals in online search processes. Here, think-aloud protocols
were used in combination with questionnaires and qualitative interviews, to examine how en-
gineers and architects solved a search task on the European Union website (www.europa.eu).
The protocols provided valuable data for tracing increasing levels of frustration followed by
the ‘point of frustration’—when the participants gave up searching.
Keywords Think-aloud method · Online search process · Mood alterations ·
User frustration · Multi-method design · European Union website
1 The think-aloud method revisited
First of all, the assumption underlying all studies employing the think-aloud method is
that it provides concurrent insights into the thought process. The source of the output
being the information currently available in the short-term memory (Nielsen et al. 2002).
Having its roots in psychological research, the think-aloud method has been frequently
applied to mirror cognitive processes and to understand problem-solving strategies. It has
been utilised in several other ﬁelds of research, ranging from educational psychology (e.g.
T. K. Hoppmann (
Hans-Bredow-Institute for Media Research, University of Hamburg,
Warburgstr. 8-10, Hamburg, 20543 Germany
T. K. Hoppmann
University of Hamburg, Lippmannstr. 23, Hamburg, 22769 Germany