A systematic review of cost, effort, and load research in information search and retrieval, 1972-2020

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During the information search and retrieval (ISR) process, user-system interactions such as submitting queries, examining results, and engaging with information impose some degree of demand on the user’s resources. Within ISR, these demands are well recognised, and numerous studies have demonstrated that the cost, effort, and load (CEL) experienced during the search process are affected by a variety of factors. Despite this recognition, there is no universally accepted definition of the constructs of CEL within the field of ISR. Ultimately, this has led to problems with how these constructs have been interpreted and subsequently measured. This systematic review contributes a synthesis of literature, summarising key findings relating to how researchers have been defining and measuring CEL within ISR over the past 50 years. After manually screening 1,109 articles, we detailed and analysed 91 articles which examine CEL within ISR. The discussion focuses on comparing the similarities and differences between CEL definitions and measures before identifying the limitations of the current state of the nomenclature. Opportunities for future research are also identified. Going forward, we propose a CEL taxonomy that integrates the relationships between CEL and their related constructs, which will help focus and disambiguate future research in this important area.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)1-39
Number of pages39
JournalACM Transactions on Information Systems
Issue number1
Early online date9 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2023


  • cost
  • effort
  • cognitive load
  • interactive information retrieval (IIR)
  • search


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