First Study

The first study investigated the reasons for using online dictionaries and tried to identify both the social situations in which online dictionaries are being consulted and different user demands. The study was conducted in German and in English because of the intended international target group. It was designed as a web-based survey that took approximately 10 to 20 minutes to complete. It consisted of six core elements:
  • Introduction (language selection, general survey conditions),
  • Set of questions on internet usage (e. g. frequency, duration, self-assessment),
  • Set of questions on the use of printed dictionaries (e. g. types of dictionaries used),
  • Set of questions on the use of online dictionaries (e. g. types of dictionaries used, devices used, activities, usage occasions, user demands),
  • Set of questions on demographics (e. g. sex, age, occupation),
  • Conclusion (thanks, prize draw details).
In order to design a survey that was easy for everybody to understand, great emphasis was placed on the implementation of several examples and illustrative transitional paragraphs.
The survey was distributed through multiple channels:
  • "Forschung erleben" ('experience research'), an online platform for the distribution of empirical surveys run and maintained by the chairs of social psychology at the University of Mannheim,
  • different mailing lists, including  Linguist ListEuralex and  U-Forum,
  • various disseminators, e. g. lectures at educational institutions.
The survey was activated from February 9th until March 14th. A total of 684 participants completed the survey. 53.7 percent selected the English version, while 46.3 chose German as the language in which they wished to complete the survey.
The vast majority of participants consisted of frequent and experienced web users:
  • 78.9 percent use the internet every day,
  • 76.6 percent use the internet both for private and for professional purposes,
  • 76.9 percent had already used search engine operators; 82.5 percent had already used the extended search,
  • 77.3 percent rated their own level of expertise regarding the internet on a scale ranging from 1 for 'very good' to 6 for 'very bad' as between 1 and 3.
Almost every respondent had already used an online dictionary (97.8 percent). 96.6 percent had already used a bilingual online dictionary, and 88.0 percent had used a monolingual dictionary. Comparisons of different kinds of monolingual online dictionaries between the selected survey languages yield significant differences: 66.7 percent of respondents who selected the German survey version used a general monolingual dictionary, whereas 92.0 percent of respondents who selected the English survey version used this type of dictionary. Dictionaries of synonyms are mentioned significantly more often in the English survey version (65.6 percent) than in the German one (55.7 percent), too. For spelling dictionaries, the distribution is quite different: this type of dictionary is mentioned significantly more often in the German survey version (54.4 percent) compared with 19.9 percent in the English version. These figures confirm previous metalexicographical conjectures. When asked which they used more often, printed or online dictionaries, 47.7 percent of the respondents indicated that they mainly use online dictionaries. The second largest group (40.9 percent) selected 'both printed dictionaries and online dictionaries'. Hence, most of the respondents are focusing on online dictionaries, yet just 3.0 percent only used online dictionaries.
Practically all respondents reported using online dictionaries most often on a desktop computer (56.5 percent) or a notebook / netbook (42.5 percent), whereas they are used much less frequently on devices with smaller displays, such as cellular/mobile phones or PDAs (1.0 percent). This is an interesting result, especially for lexicographers, in terms of the design of the user interface.
The majority of the respondents use online dictionaries both for private and for professional purposes (54.7 percent) or mainly for professional purposes (33.3 percent). Furthermore, online dictionaries are most often used (54.4 percent) for activities that are carried out frequently or that require active involvement (e. g. translating or writing). During activities that are carried out less frequently or that do not require active involvement (e. g. reading or browsing), online dictionaries are used substantially less frequently.
The occasions on which online dictionaries are used were the subject of detailed questioning. The particular occasions were divided into a receptive and a productive section, each distinguished by mother tongue and foreign language. The results indicate that online dictionaries are used more often for occasions relating to a foreign language than to the mother tongue. This can be explained by a different degree of command of the language. The only exception is the search for synonyms. The main reasons for using an online dictionary for text reception in a foreign language are problems of understanding. For text production, the main reasons for usage are problems relating to the translation, the correct use or the correct spelling of a word. All differences are highly significant.
In a further section, respondents were asked to rate ten aspects with respect to their importance regarding the use of an online dictionary:
  • adaptability: the user interface is customisable,
  • clarity: the general structure of the website enables you to easily find the information you need,
  • links to other dictionaries: the entries also contain links to other dictionaries,
  • links to the corpus: the entries also contain links to the relevant collection of texts (corpus),
  • long-term accessibility: you can be certain of accessing the different articles by using the previous URL (i.e. web address) for future references,
  • multimedia content: the online dictionary also contains multimedia files, e.g. visual and audio media,
  • reliability of content: you can rely on the accuracy and authorship of the content,
  • speed: there is hardly any delay when the pages are loaded,
  • suggestions for further browsing: the entries contain links to other entries you might find interesting,
  • up-to-date content: possible mistakes are corrected on a regular basis; new word entries and linguistic developments are regularly published online.
Among other questions, the participants were asked to create a personal ranking according to importance. The most important criterion was placed in first position, whereas the least important criterion was placed in tenth position. The classical criteria of reference books (such as reliability of content or clarity) were ranked most highly, whereas the unique characteristics of online dictionaries (e. g. multimedia content, adaptability, links to the corpus or to other dictionaries) were rated as partly unimportant or unimportant. Most strikingly, this pattern holds for different subgroup analyses, meaning that - on average -  there are no noteworthy rating differences between different groups, for example between particular occupation groups or between different age cohorts.
The results of the first survey raise several questions. This is where the <link>Second study starts, by tackling the following questions: What exactly do respondents think about the criteria rated as most important for a good online dictionary? Do respondents have a differentiated view on individual aspects of the criteria rated on average as unimportant? Furthermore, the purpose of the second survey is to collect empirical data about the respondents' evaluation of different visual representations (views) of the same content.