Dee Ann Lewis

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


One of the most perplexing problems in Information Science has been definition of central concepts such as 'relevance' and 'information' at a theoretical level which incorporates and accounts for all known attributes of the concepts and the principles which underlie their particular application in this field. The objective of this thesis was to determine whether one definition of relevance, 'aboutness', can be based, at least in part, on textual characteristics of queries and abstracts. To this end, this study was conducted to determine to what extent a set of functional relations based on Fillmore's case grammar theory could be used to explain the correspondence between patterns of language behavior in aboutness recognition and language patterns in the texts of queries and abstracts. The test environment was a real-life bibliographic retrieval system. Thirty subject specialists (advanced graduate students and university faculty from the Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities) submitted queries and performed relevance assessments using 'aboutness' as the operational definition for their judgements. An analysis of functional relations between the keyterms in the queries and abstracts was compared to the subject specialists' decisions. The result was that the agreement between the subject specialists' decisions and the decisions based on a match in functional relations between the queries and abstracts was 97%. The conclusion reached on the basis of this finding is that abstracts judged to be about the topic named in a query did contain the desired keyterms in functional relations which matched the functional relations between those keyterms in the query; and abstracts judged to be not about the topic named in the query did contain the same or equivalent keyterms, but not in functional relations which matched the functional relations in the query. The high level of agreement between the aboutness decisions based on functional relations and the subject specialists' decisions demonstrates clearly the consistency of language behavior in relevance assessments where the definition on which the decisions are made is aboutness or match in topic. These conclusions have implications for indexing systems, query negotiation, search strategy formation, retrieval system research and the development of interface mechanisms for on-line retrieval systems.



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