Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Search School: Use Unique Words

In the last few posts, I discussed a process that begins with breaking a research question into individual concepts and then translating the concepts into keywords, or words that you will use for your search.

The keywords should be specific, and preferably, they will be nouns or proper nouns. Once you have accomplished these steps, you will do an initial search.

Unique Words
Have you ever noticed how many words there are for a person that is between the ages of 13 and 20? Most people refer to such a person as a teenager. But depending on the context and the writer, they might use several other words to describe the same person.

Medicine or Social SciencesAdolescent
TeachersStudent or High School Student
LibrarianYoung Adult
Your GrandmotherYoung Person
Legal SystemJuvenile
Another Teenager guy / girl

Every community, profession or other group—baseball players, skaters, doctors, cheerleaders or music fans— has its own unique terminology that is shared by its members. When you are performing a search, think about what language a person who is familiar with topic might use when talking about the topic and include those terms in your search.

For example, you were given an assignment from your teacher to research information on an endangered animal. Your topic is wolves. Ideally, we want to find information from quality resources on science related websites.

Here are the results in Google for several different possible keywords:

Wolves - 119,000,000 hits
On the first page of results, there are some sites with information about gray wolves, but there are also several sports teams and other unrelated sites.

Gray Wolf - 7,390,000 hits
By being more specific, we narrowed the number of results considerably, but there are a few irrelevant results and several that are designed for elementary school students.

Canis Lupus - 3,300,000 hits
Finally, if we use the scientific name (used by scientists) for the animal, we get the smallest number of results and most of the sites are from science oriented sites or wildlife conservation organizations.

Practice Exercise:
Think of a topic that you are familiar with because of your interest or participation in a sport, hobby, profession or other community. Think of a general term that a person not familiar with the topic might use and do a search in your favorite search engine.

Now use the more specific term that is used by those who are familiar with the topic.

Compare the results to see which one has fewer, but more relevant, results.

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