Dervin's Sense-Making Methodology (1996 and 2010)

Many of the interviews on this site utilized Dervin's Sense-Making Methodology, that provides a theoretic, a methodology, and a set of data collection methods designed to study how people make sense of their world.

Sense-Making is based on the concept that humans generally seek information when they encounter an obstacle, or gap, of some kind that they see as a block in their life path. To bridge that gap, the individual seeks or revises information, methods, and new approaches that they find helpful.

Sense-Making approaches this theoretic of the gap by circling attention among key points: the situation involved, the gap encountered, the bridge constructed to traverse the gap, and the helps/utilities that resulted in bridging the gap.

Sense-Making builds on a core "time-line" interview. This is a structured, open-ended interview that allows the participant to construct a view of the world from his or her own perspective. The interview starts with the participant's experiences in a particular situation. The responses are then "circled," focusing on the gap, bridge, and helps, and probing the manner in which the interviewee has constructed the event and the significance of this event to himself or herself.

Sense-Making has been used for over 40 years in a wide variety of contexts. However, its primary application has been in the area of information seeking and use.

Dervin, B. & Naumer, C. `Sense-Making’, in Littlejohn, S. W. & Foss, K.A. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009: (876-880)..

Dervin, B. (2008, July). `Interviewing as Dialectical Practice: Sense-Making Methodology as Exemplar’. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, Stockholm, Sweden.

Dervin, Brenda and Lois Foreeman-Wernet (with E. Lauterbach), eds. 2003. Sense-Making Methodology Reader: Selected Writings of Brenda Dervin. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Dervin, B. (2003). “Sense-Making’s Journey from Metatheory to Methodology to Method: An Example Using Information Seeking and Use as Research Focus.” Sense-Making Methodology Reader: Selected Writings of Brenda Dervin. Eds. Brenda Dervin and Lois Foreman-Wernet (with E. Lauterbach). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. 133-164.

Dervin, Brenda B. 1999. "On Studying Information Seeking Methodologically: The Implications of Connecting Metatheory to Method." Information Processing and Management 35.6: 727-750.

Dervin, Brenda. 1999. “Chaos, Order, and Sense-Making: A Proposed Theory for Information Design.” Information Design. Ed. R. Jacobson. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dervin, Brenda. 1992. "From the Mind's Eye of the User: The Sense-Making Qualitative-Quantitative Methodology." Qualitative Research in Information Management. Ed. Jack D. Glazier and Ronald R. Powell. Englewood, Colorado, USA: Libraries Unlimited. 61-84.

Dervin, Brenda. 1989. "Audience as Listener and Learner, Teacher and Confidante: The Sense-Making Approach." Public Communication Campaigns. Ed. Ronald Rice and Charles Atkins. Newbury Park, California, USA: Sage. 67-86 +.


The Interview Protocol used for many of the 1996 interviews.

The Interview Protocol used for many of the 2010 interviews.


"From the Memories of Turkish Cypriots"

"From the Memories of Greek Cypriots"