A graphical user interface for Boolean query specification

Jones, S., McInnes, S., Staveley, M. S. (1999) International Journal on Digital Libraries 2,207-223. Springer-Verlag.

Online information repositories commonly provide keyword search facilities through textual query languages based on Boolean logic. However, there is evidence to suggest that the syntactic demands of such languages can lead to user errors and adversely affect the time that it takes users to form queries. Users also face difficulties because of the conflict in semantics between AND and OR when used in Boolean logic and English language. Analysis of usage logs for the New Zealand Digital Library (NZDL) show that few Boolean queries contain more than three terms, use of the intersection operator dominates and that query refinement is common. We suggest that graphical query languages, in particular Venn-like diagrams, can alleviate the problems that users experience when forming Boolean expressions with textual languages. A study of the utility of Venn diagrams for query specification indicates that with little or no training users can interpret and form Venn-like diagrams in a consistent manner which accurately correspond to Boolean expressions. We describe VQuery, a Venn-diagram based user interface to the New Zealand Digital Library (NZDL). In a study which compared V Query with a standard textual Boolean interface, users took significantly longer to form queries and produced more erroneous queries when using VQuery. We discuss the implications of these results and suggest directions for future work.