[WEB4LIB] RE: Virtual reference and "chat speak"?

Sloan, Bernie bernies at uillinois.edu
Fri Nov 15 18:31:00 EST 2002

Joe Murphy asked:

"...how many characters long is the average patron message?"

I have some info on the length of patron messages in words (rather than

I've studied the length of the opening statement/question of users of the
Ready for Reference Service. For the 877 transcripts that I have:

Mean question length in WORDS: 19.5
Shortest question length in WORDS: 1
Greatest question length in WORDS: 118

Bernie Sloan

-----Original Message-----
From: Joseph Murphy [mailto:murphyjm at kenyon.edu] 
Sent: Friday, November 15, 2002 5:18 PM
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: [WEB4LIB] RE: Virtual reference and "chat speak"?

On Friday, November 15, 2002, at 04:27 PM, Sloan, Bernie wrote:

> Just to clarify one thing, I was not considering whether it would be
> inappropriate for virtual reference librarians to indiscriminately use 
> chat
> speak.
> I was considering how often a virtual reference librarian might 
> actually
> encounter "chat speak" from users. And the preliminary answer is "not
> often".

My (very limited) experience would agree with this. However, what may 
be more important than "chat speak" is "chat style."

The lack of things like punctuation and capital letters, combined with 
stacatto "speech", can be more off-putting than you might expect. As an 
example, I have the feeling that endings are far more abrupt in chat; 
users seem to send "thanks i think that'll work" and log off before I 
can respond. (I know the users don't think they're being rude, but it 
does feel a little like they've turned on their heels and walked away.) 
I have a feeling that preparing for this is more important than knowing 
"IMO" from "LOL". ;-)

So here's an interesting (to me) followup question: how many characters 
long is the average patron message? And is there any way to compare 
that to face-to-face interviews?

Joe Murphy
Librarian and Technology Consultant
Library and Information Services
Kenyon College
murphyjm at kenyon.edu

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