The effect of misspellings on information retrieval on online public access catalogues

Rebekah Willson, Lisa M. Given

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book


Spelling is an important literacy skill, crucial to successful searching in Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs). Students at the University of Alberta, were given 4 search tasks. They were given a topic and asked to find as many items on that topic in the OPAC as possible. They were allowed to use any Internet resources of their choice to aid their search. Half of the participants were given easy-to-spell search terms (Easy Group), the other half difficult-to-spell (Difficult Group). There were several factors that affected students’ searching and information retrieval. The years of education increased the likelihood that participants would check spelling and gather background information on the topic. The frequency of Internet use also increased the likelihood that students would check spelling and use broader search fields. The difficulty of spelling level of the search topics affected: how participants searched for the term; whether or not they checked the spelling; whether or not they gathered background information; and the number misspellings and unsuccessful searches. The search behaviour of participants indicates that students search OPACs like they do the Internet. Despite some ineffective OPAC searching, most participants were successful in obtaining the correct spelling of the search terms, which was important because misspellings made in the OPAC led to no search results (with the exception of misspellings that were contained in the catalogue records). The results obtained have implications for including spell checkers in OPACs, cataloguing and information literacy instruction.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Annual Conference of CAIS
Subtitle of host publicationInformation Beyond Borders: LIS interacting with other disciplines
EditorsC. Guastavino , J. Turner
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes
EventCanadian Association for Information Science - Vancouver, Canada
Duration: 5 Jun 20087 Jun 2008


ConferenceCanadian Association for Information Science
Abbreviated titleCAIS


  • spelling
  • misspelling
  • information retrieval
  • OPAC
  • online public access catalogue


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