We performed a study of how people look for information within email,
files, and the Web. We conducted semi-structured interviews in which
participants reported their information activities twice a day over the
course of a week. The interviewer would interrupt participants' work and
prompt them for their recent information activities in the three different
We found that when locating a document or searching for a specific answer,
people relied on their contextual knowledge of their information target to
help them find it, often associating the target with a specific document.
They appeared to prefer to use this contextual information as a guide in
navigating locally in small steps to the desired document rather than
directly jumping to their target. We found this behavior was especially
true for people with unstructured information organization. I will discuss
these results, as well as the implications of our findings for the design
of personal information management tools.