Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 88–100 | Cite as

Information practices and cognitive artifacts in scientific research

  • Peter H. JonesEmail author
Original Article


A cognitive ethnography study investigates information practices in experimental life sciences research. Activity analysis of collaborative research projects and cognitive artifacts revealed a series of seven cognitive information tasks performed in the lifecycle of the research project. Life scientists exhibited habituated patterns of search behavior in the institutional information ecology. Scientists have widely adopted the transparent search interfaces of PubMed and Google, rarely employing full text or specialized services for searching publications. An activity theory approach suggests explanations for interface and information use. Individual researchers in the research project context perform information tasks to locate information objects, mediated by the printed article as a primary cognitive artifact. A cycle of use shows that interface transparency mediates the pursuit of information objects through locating “opaque” cognitive artifacts. Such simple, transparent information tasks become routinized operations. Individual attention becomes focused on the artifact and information object, not the user interface.


Information behavior Cognitive ethnography Scientific collaboration Information ecology Cognitive artifacts Information objects 



This paper reports findings from a research program conducted by Redesign Research for Elsevier. I acknowledge Dr. David Marques, the Elsevier research sponsor, for supporting this research and review of the manuscript, and Andrea Kravetz, for her support and coordination of the research. Chris Jasek of Elsevier’s User-Centered Design group is acknowledged for his collaboration in field data collection and analysis, and review of the article. I also thank Erik Hollnagel, Alan Dix and Erik Andriessen for their thoughtful reviews.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Redesign ResearchDaytonUSA

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