Christine Urquhart, Louisa Mei Chun Lam, Bonnie Cheuk, Brenda Dervin

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Sense-making/sensemaking are terms commonly understood as the processes through which people interpret and give meaning to their experiences. The three different spelling variations (i.e., sense-making, sensemaking, sense making) are used deliberately by the authors included here, in different academic discourse communities that share some common thrusts. The terms originally focused on the five senses but have expanded in meaning to cover physical, emotional, spiritual, and intuitional responses posited as involved in human sense-makings of their worlds, both internal and external. Since the 1970s, sense-making/sensemaking has been used by researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds, with significant applications in the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI), cognitive systems engineering, knowledge management, communication studies, and library/information science (human information behavior). At the highest level of abstraction, the differences in the underlying theories used by researchers can best be understood in tensions between cognitivist and constructivist strands and the focus on either a micro or macro framework. As the different streams of attention differ in so many ways (e.g., context, informants, methods, intended audiences, etc.), comparisons are difficult. It is necessary to understand the historical origins, philosophical assumptions, and methodological roots of five major research approaches labeled as sense-making or sensemaking: Dervin’s sense-making in user studies, human information behavior; Weick’s sensemaking in organizational communication; Snowden’s organizational sense-making in knowledge management; Russell’s sensemaking in HCI; and Klein’s sensemaking in cognitive systems engineering. Applications of the approaches, emerging perspectives, and uses are reviewed. Applications increasingly merge some sense-making/sensemaking ideas together or use sense-making/sensemaking with other theories (e.g., Brenda Dervin: Sense-Making Methodology: Methodology, Daniel Russell: Sensemaking and Searching: Philosophy and Methodology, Gary Klein: Sensemaking in Cognitive Systems Engineering: Application).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSense-Making/Sensemaking
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2020

Publication series

NameOxford Bibliographies in Communication


  • Communication
  • Information search


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