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Background and Aim

Given the importance of user-centered design in library websites and virtual reference environments, this study sought to utilize existing chat transcript data at the University of Denver library to build a framework of patron patterns and natural language in students asking reference questions.


This study employed a word-cloud analysis on cleaned transcript data to identify patterns in student language and behavior when describing reference needs on the library website. Data from two consecutive fall quarters were analyzed separately and trends were identified by comparison.


This study identifies five top term/phrases in student chat transcript data: “Article”, “Help, Search, Find”, “Access”, Search Function terminology, and “Paper”. Overall findings suggest that although students do often identify their target goal, they primarily describe their needs in terms of the actions or assignments that they are trying to complete. There is some indication that recent changes to the library website should be monitored or further tested for usability.


Further study is recommended, especially in the areas of navigational hierarchies and patron behaviors. The current website is organized around items. This study supports the idea from the literature that it should instead be organized around actions.


Originally published on the University of Denver's Digital Commons

Wimer, Kate E., "Decoding Virtual Reference: Using Chat Transcripts to Guide Usability Testing and Improve Web Design" (2017). Library and Information Science: Student Capstone Projects. 3.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.