December 30, 2007

Information Searches That Solve Problems

Chapter 6: Successful Encounters and Best Sources

Introduction

Overall, Americans overwhelmingly report that they were successful at finding the information or assistance they needed to deal with a particular problem. Three in five, 60%, report they were very successful and 29% report they were somewhat successful.

Self-reporting on success varied according to income and degree of internet access. Higher income means higher reporting of success: Among those with household incomes over $40,000 a year, 93% reported they were very successful in their search, including 64% who were very successful. In the lower income group, 84% report being successful in their search, with 52% reporting very successful.

Similarly, greater internet access means higher reporting of success: Among those with high internet access, 93% say they were successful, including 63% who report being very successful in their search. In the low-access group 82% report success, including 54% who are very successful.

The inter-related factors of income, internet access and education are related to greater success in dealing with these personal problems. Contrary to what one might expect, success is not necessarily related to using more sources of help. While the data is far from definitive, it appears that greater efficiency at identifying and getting assistance from various sources is what leads those with higher incomes and greater internet access to greater success.

Contacting the government, going to a public library and using the internet are the three sources most related to being successful in addressing matters or problems. In each case, about two-thirds of people reported that they were successful in their efforts: 65% for contacting a government agency or office, 64% using the library and 63% using the internet.

Successful Problem-solving by Source

Regardless of the nature of the problem they were addressing or problem they were solving, respondents reported being similarly successful in finding information or solutions.  Nearly two-thirds of those dealing with an education matter, 65%, say they were very successful, while 57% of those dealing with a health problem report success.

Successful Problem-solving by Type of Problem

Which sources of information provide the most help?

People gave higher marks to the internet than to any other source of information that was consulted. More than half of those who used the internet, 55%, say they obtained a lot of the information that needed online. And 35% say they found some of the information or help they needed.

Nearly half of respondents, 49%, said they found a lot of the information they needed from government offices and agencies, 28% say they found some of what they needed.

How Much Information by Source

Just over a third, 36%, of those who went to the libraries say they found a lot of what they were looking for. A total of 42% say they found some of what they sought.

There are few differences among demographic groups. For those who used the internet and those who went to public libraries, there are very few differences by age, income, education, and levels of internet access in terms of how much information they found.

Cite this publication: Lee Rainie, Leigh Estabrook and Evans Witt. “Information Searches That Solve Problems.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 30, 2007) http://www.pewinternet.org/2007/12/30/information-searches-that-solve-problems/, accessed on July 23, 2014.