Original Research

Uncovering Web search strategies in South African higher education

Surika Civilcharran, Manoj S. Maharaj
South African Journal of Information Management | Vol 18, No 1 | a698 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajim.v18i1.698 | © 2016 Surika Civilcharran, Manoj S. Maharaj | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 July 2015 | Published: 01 November 2016

About the author(s)

Surika Civilcharran, School of Management, IT and Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Manoj S. Maharaj, School of Management, IT and Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Background: In spite of the enormous amount of information available on the Web and the fact that search engines are continuously evolving to enhance the search experience, students are nevertheless faced with the difficulty of effectively retrieving information. It is, therefore, imperative for the interaction between students and search tools to be understood and search strategies to be identified, in order to promote successful information retrieval.

Objectives: This study identifies the Web search strategies used by postgraduate students and forms part of a wider study into information retrieval strategies used by postgraduate students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Pietermaritzburg campus, South Africa.

Method: Largely underpinned by Thatcher’s cognitive search strategies, the mixed-methods approach was utilised for this study, in which questionnaires were employed in Phase 1 and structured interviews in Phase 2. This article reports and reflects on the findings of Phase 2, which focus on identifying the Web search strategies employed by postgraduate students. The Phase 1 results were reported in Civilcharran, Hughes and Maharaj (2015).

Results: Findings reveal the Web search strategies used for academic information retrieval. In spite of easy access to the invisible Web and the advent of meta-search engines, the use of Web search engines still remains the preferred search tool. The UKZN online library databases and especially the UKZN online library, Online Public Access Catalogue system, are being underutilised.

Conclusion: Being ranked in the top three percent of the world’s universities, UKZN is investing in search tools that are not being used to their full potential. This evidence suggests an urgent need for students to be trained in Web searching and to have a greater exposure to a variety of search tools. This article is intended to further contribute to the design of undergraduate training programmes in order to deal with the information retrieval frustrations of novice users.


Information Retrieval; Web Search Strategies; Web Search Tactics; Cognitive Search Strategies; Higher Education; Search Tool


Total abstract views: 6255
Total article views: 5812

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.