Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Search School: Use nouns and proper nouns

Last time, I wrote about creating search queries that use a few essential words or short phrases instead of whole sentences. A strategy using a few, well thought out terms is generally the most effective way to narrow your search to find the information you need.

Once you narrow down your search to just a few concepts, you should then look at the words you have chosen. As a general rule, it is best to use nouns, especially proper nouns, in your search. Nouns are more concrete and specific than other words whose job it is to describe, modify or otherwise help out the nouns. 

Proper nouns are even better because, while nouns name a person, place, thing or idea, proper nouns refer to a specific person, place, thing or idea. 

The more specific and concrete your search terms, the better the search results.
Here is an example research question:

Why do we have Global Warming?

The first step is break the question into the essential components.

"Global Warming" AND [why do we have]

Global Warming is specific and would work great as a search term.  The second part of the question is a problem. "Why do we have" is too general, so we need to find a noun that has a more precise meaning.


These two would work.  If we know a little about the topic, we might able to predict that we might find information on CO2 emissions or pollution as possible reasons for global warming. We might also know (or find out) that some people refer to Global Warming with the broader term Climate Change.

These specific terms would give you different results, depending on which ones you use. It is a good idea to try out several different terms in your search to see what works best.

Practice Exercise:Use your favorite search engine do a search for the research question above. Try picking one term from each colum for each search. Which combination gives you most relevant results in the first 2 pages of results.

Search Term 1 Search Term 2
"global warming"
"climate change"
"CO2 emissions"

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