SAGE Usability Testing: Learning from Students

Last week, SAGE’s Online Products team conducted a series of usability tests of our journal sites – especially SAGE Open – with social science PhD students at Stanford University. Observing the research patterns of these 4 advanced “power users” of our journals platform taught us a great deal about opportunities for improving our sites – as well as illuminating trends in information-seeking behaviors.

The one trend all 4 students had in common was their reliance on Google Scholar for search and discovery of scholarly content. When our testing routines asked them to use the search functionality on the SAGE journals site, they often asked if they could use Google Scholar instead. They preferred to go out of the journal site, search Google, and return to the specific page within the site they were after – instead of searching the site itself. They reported only using their library catalog if they were looking for the print copy of something specific.

Similar to the SAGE Journals platform’s advanced Boolean search options, Google Scholar provides advanced seach features, such as publication date and subject filtering. These students preferred to stay with Google’s search features, which serves the expected level of accuracy across all known resources, rather than learning bespoke features limited to a single journal or publisher. These students demonstrated impressive familiarity with and accurate use of these advanced features – not to mention their lightning fast typing speed!

Their use of citations was also a notable trend – both as a method of discovering new research as well as an indicator of the merit of an article. While some were unfamiliar with Impact Factor, they were all well aware of the value of well-cited works. They also used Google Scholar to explore the citations of a given article – reviewing where items were cited within the search results themselves.

Their use of social media and commentary features was also notable – bucking the commonly understood behavior of this age group. Most reported that they would likely not post article links on their Facebook page, Twitter, etc., because those were not where they reached their professional circles. They would likely send emails to share articles or print copies for colleagues.

Also, they felt rating articles or posting comments wasn’t appropriate for the level of their career. A few noted that they might contribute this type of feedback once they were tenured and only then if they felt the feature was being used by notable leaders in their field and the article pertained to their specific area of study.

SAGE is grateful to these students and to our library colleagues at Stanford. If you have additional thoughts on these findings or suggestions for future market research, please contact Lettie Conrad, Manager, Online Product Management, at SAGE ([email protected]).

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