Thursday, May 22, 2008
Power Your Search Engine Searches with “Wedge Words”
Stalled searches slowing you down? When even exact phrase searches don’t get you where you want to go, it’s time to let “wedge words” drive your online research.
Former English teacher and librarian Marylaine Block came up with this term for words which are very effective at “prying out a very specific kind of information” in online searches. She explains, “We might add them to a search topic to tell a search engine the exact format in which we want our results, or the exact type of resource we're looking for.” One powerful wedge word, she says, is faq - frequently asked questions. Block says, “One of the great strengths of the Internet is that experts on virtually every topic have created FAQ files to answer the basic questions. If you're starting to research a topic about which you know nothing, you can use Google and type mytopic FAQ. (Why Google? Since it ranks results in accordance with how many people link to a site, there's a pretty good chance that the top results will in fact be good answers.)”
Block shares some additional wedge words, why they work and how to use them:
Search engines are good at finding search terms, but can't handle relationships between words -- to a machine, there is no real difference between library schooland school library. One way to compensate for that is exact phrase searching, but some questions can't be stated with simple exact phrases. For example, take the question: What percentage of Hispanic-Americans are (sic) of Mexican descent?
What you need is a word that contains within itself an implied relationship. In this case, any question about the make-up of a group of people is covered by the wedge word demographics. Using the phrase Hispanic-Americans + demographics, you are led to a number of statistical resources that break down the group membership. Similarly, the question I have about koalas, that eat eucalyptus leaves, is "What, if anything, do the eucalyptus trees get out of this?" Search engines can't handle that question, but I can use the words for relationships between organisms in a food system: "parasitic" for a purely exploitative relationship, and "symbiotic" for a mutually beneficial arrangement.
When our users are deciding whether to buy a DVD player, but don't know which brand they want, the most helpful resource would be a comparison chart, where our users can see what features the different models of DVD players have, for what price. Once they've narrowed down the possible choices, THEN we can look for a review of a specific model to see if the stated features actually work.
When you know your answer is in the invisible web... you can simply add the worddatabase to your topic.
Here are some other wedge words:
· "Word 6.0" + tutorial
· "rock music" + encyclopedia
· "used cars" + "book value"
· catholicism + expert
· maps + "lesson plans"
· cataloging + listserv
· audio + "search engine"
Find more tips from Block on a variety of subjects at Ex Libris
I would like to inform everyone readingthis that the above information is a reproduction of my questia newsletter on 22nd May 2008.
The block quoted textx may be reproduced or cited given proper citations such as MLA, APA or Turabian/Chicago Style.