Domain analysis
Hjørland & Albrechtsen (1995) suggested domain-analysis as a new paradigm for Library and Information Science (LIS):  

"The domain-analytic paradigm" is a theoretical approach to Information Science (IS), which states, that the best way to understand information in IS is to study the knowledge-domains as "discourse communities", which are parts of the society's division of labor. Knowledge organization, -structure, cooperation patterns, language and communication forms, information systems and relevance criteria are reflections of the objects of the work of these communities and of their role in society. The individual person's psychology, knowledge, information needs, and subjective relevance criteria should be seen in this perspective".

Hjørland (2002) describes the special competency of library and information specialists and information scientists from the domain-analytic point of view. Information science grew out of special librarianship and documentation (cf., Williams, 1997), and implicit in its tradition has been a focus on subject knowledge. The article introduces eleven specific approaches to domain analysis which is claimed together define the specific competencies of information specialists. The approaches are: 

  1. Producing and evaluating literature guides and subject gateways,

  2. Producing and evaluating special classifications and thesauri,

  3. Research on and competencies in indexing and retrieving information in specialties,

  4. Knowledge about empirical user studies in subject areas,

  5. Producing and interpreting bibliometric studies,

  6. Historical studies of information structures and services in domains,

  7. Studies of documents and genres in knowledge domains,

  8. Epistemological and critical studies of different paradigms, assumptions and interests in domains.

  9. Knowledge about terminological studies, LSP (languages for special purposes) and discourse analysis in knowledge fields,

  10. Knowledge about and studies of structures and institutions in scientific and professional communication in a domain.

  11. Knowledge about methods and results from domain analytic studies about professional cognition, knowledge representation in computer science and artificial intelligence.

By bringing these approaches together the author advocates a view which may have been implicit in previous literature but which has not before been set out systematically. The approaches presented here are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, but an attempt is made to present the state of the art. Specific examples and selective reviews of literature are provided, and the strength and drawback of each of these approaches are being discussed. The approaches do not have the same importance. Domain analysis is basically a sociological-epistemological approach.

    The information specialist who has worked with these 11 approaches in a given domain (e.g., music, sociology or chemistry) has a special expertise that should not be mixed up with the kind of expertise taught at universities in corresponding subjects. Some of these 11 approaches are today well-known in schools of LIS. Bibliometrics is an example. Other approaches are new and represent a view of what should be introduced in the training of information professionals.

These 11 approaches should be seen as supplementary. That the professional identity is best maintained if those methods are applied to the same examples (same domain). Somebody would perhaps feel that this would make the education of information professionals too narrow. The counter-argument is that you can only understand and use these methods properly in a new domain, if you already have a deep knowledge of the specific information problems in at least one domain. It is a dangerous illusion to believe that one becomes more competent to work in any field if one does not know anything about any domain.

    The special challenge in LIS is to provide general background for use in specific fields. This is what domain analysis is being developed for.


The term domain analysis is also used in computer science in a somewhat related meaning. The term domain-specific knowledge is related to trends in cognitive science, artificial intelligence (AI) and expert systems, which opposes previous universal models and "brute-force" algorithms.

Also other fields are studying domains. In pedagogic is the discipline subject didactics (or professional didactics) about the problems of teaching specific disciplines and subjects. I linguistics LSP is the study of languages for special purposes. Philosophy of science includes the study of specific knowledge fields, as do the sociology of science. 

In LIS has domain analytic studies been published by, among others,  Abrahamsen (2003),
Fry (2006), Sundin (2003), Talja (2005) and Ørom (2003).


Domain analysis have previously been implicit in much practical library and information management, but it has never before been formulated as a theoretical approach for research within LIS.  Previously the domain-analytic approach has been anticipated by, for example, Rowley (1987, p. 168): "There is an alternative method for the design of subject retrieval devices, and that is to build languages or schemes which depend upon some theoretical views about the nature and structure of knowledge". Many parts of bibliometrics may also be seen as a kind of domain analysis.


Domain analysis is an approach developed in opposition to individualistic and mentalist views such as cognitive views dominating LIS in the early 1990s. Domain analysis is an approach which make room for cultural, and social dimensions in human cognition, which is neglected by both the "physical paradigm" and the cognitive view.




Abrahamsen, K. T. (2003). Indexing of Musical Genres. An Epistemological Perspective. Knowledge Organization, 30(3/4), 144-169.


Fry, J. (2006). Scholarly research and information practices: a domain analytic approach. Information Processing & Management, 42(1), 299-316.


Hjørland, B. & Albrechtsen, H. (1995). Toward a New Horizon in Information Science: Domain-Analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 46(6), 400-425.

Hjørland, B. (2002). Domain analysis in information science. Eleven approaches - traditional as well as innovative. Journal of Documentation, 58(4), 422-462.



Hjørland, B. (2004). Domain analysis in information science. IN: Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. New York: Marcel Dekker. Pp. 1-7. Online:


Hjørland, B. &  Hartel, J. (2003). Ontological, Epistemological and Sociological Dimensions of Domains. Knowledge Organization, 30(3/4), 239-245.

Hjørland, B. & Hartel, J. (Eds.). (2003).  Special Issue of Knowledge Organization on Domain Analysis. Knowledge Organization, 30(3+4), 125-245.  (Click for Content pages).


Kjellman, U. (2006). Från kungaporträtt till läskeetikett. En domänanalytisk studie över Kungl. bibliotekets bildsamling med särskild inriktning mot katalogiserings- och indexeringsfrågor. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet. (Skrifter utgivna av Institionen för ABM vid Uppsala Universitet. Volym 2).


McCain, K. W.; Verner, J. M.; Hislop, G. W.; Evanco, W. & Cole, V. (2005). The use of bibliometric and Knowledge Elicitation techniques to map a knowledge domain: Software Engineering in the 1990s. Scientometrics, 65(1), 131-144.


Petras, V. (2006). Translating Dialects in Search: Mapping between Specialized Languages of Discourse and Documentary Languages. Berkeley: University of California. (Dissertation), also:



Pulkkinen, J. (2003). The paradigms of e-Education. An analysis of the communication structures in the research on information and communication technology integration in education in the years 2000–2001. University of Oulu,  Finland: Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences and Teacher Education. Available at:


Sundin, O. (2003). Towards an Understanding of Symbolic Aspects of Professional Information: An Analysis of the Nursing Knowledge Domain. Knowledge Organization, 30(3/4), 170-181.

Talja, S. (2005) The domain analytic approach to scholars' information practices. In: Theories of information behavior: A researcher's guide. Ed. K. Fisher, S. Erdelez, L. McKechnie. Medford, NJ. Information Today. (Pp. 123-127).


Talja, S & Maula, H (2003). Reasons for the use and non-use of electronic journals and databases: a domain analytic study in four scholarly disciplines. Journal of Documentation 59(6), 673-691.


Williams, R. V. (1997). The Documentation and Special Libraries Movements in the United States, 1910-1960. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 48(9), pp. 775-781. Reprinted in: Historical Studies in Information Science. Ed. By T. B. Hahn & M. Buckland. Medford, NJ: ASIS/ Information Today, Inc., 1998. Pp.173-180.


Ørom, A. (2003). Knowledge Organization in the domain of Art Studies - History, Transition and Conceptual Changes. Knowledge Organization, 30(3/4), 128-143.




See also: Domain (Epistemological lifeboat); Domain Analysis as approach to KO (Lifeboat for KO)




Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 02-04-2007