Information Retrieval Techniques

It takes experience and discipline to be skilled researcher. Judith Tinnes, in this article on the art of searching for terrorism literature, presents a very thorough and clear description of the research process and types of online resource and provides sound advice on how to track down the best material. It is the best article I have ever read on information retrieval techniques: It instructs the reader in matters of approach and tools, and includes detail on techniques such as those of snowballing, citation searching, and citation analyses. You don’t need to be researching terrorism literature to benefit from this, but the topic does give it an extra frisson.

The Art of Searching: How to Find Terrorism Literature in the Digital Age
by Judith Tinnes, Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol 7, No 4 (2013)

This guide provides an overview of information retrieval techniques for locating high-quality literature on terrorism and counter-terrorism. Starting from general considerations on conducting a literature search – taking into account the specifics of terrorism studies – instructions are provided on how to find particular literature types by using different search methods and information retrieval systems, followed by information on how to refine a search by employing focused search strategies. The explanations are enriched with numerous links to recommendable resources. The included examples are focused on terrorism studies, but the general search mechanics can be applied to other research domains as well.

Reference Works Online

Reference sources have been moving to online for several years. This article in Online Searcher takes a good hard look at the pros and cons of online reference products. Ease of access has  greatly improved, but authority may not be clear and the online version of a reference work may not be complete.

The Ebb and Flow of Reference Products , By Denise Beaubien Bennett, Online Searcher (July / August 2014)

“Have reference sources eroded in quality in the online era? We’re all aware of the challenges facing us and our users in vetting (or not) the authority and credibility of free sources available online. But the quality of contemporary vetted sources is worth examining in its own right.”

Many excellent online reference works are commented upon in this article.

Whether to use the Boolean OR

Aaron Tay in this blog post takes on the thorny topic of whether using the Boolean OR in a search query is really worthwhile even at proprietary databases such as Web of Science of EbscoHost. He is so daring as to write, “that I believe increasingly such a search pattern of stringing together synonyms of concepts generally does not improve the search results and can even hurt them. ”

Why Nested Boolean search statements may not work as well as they did, by Aaron Tay, Musings About Librarianship (Jul 14)

I have been teaching very selective use of OR in web searching. Mostly it’s not needed and when used can muddy the results. But it is still beneficial for the searcher to analyze the question to identify concepts and know when to expand a concept. We no longer need to expand for spelling variations and less so on synoymns EXCEPT when we want to control the word use.

Article seems to give balanced account of need to use OR in some databases (such as PubMed), and the much looser approach with the Web.

Toxnet online course

Health sciences librarians and health or environmental sciences professionals in the United States will be interested in this new online course – Discovering Toxnet – by the US National Library of Medicine (Oct 20 to Nov 14, 2014). Note: Open only to residents of the United States.

“TOXNET is a web-based system of databases covering hazardous chemicals, environmental health, toxic releases, chemical nomenclature, poisoning, risk assessment and regulations, and occupational safety and health. The independent modules cover TOXLINE, ChemIDplus, TRI, TOXMAP, Hazardous Substances Data Bank, IRIS, Has-Map, LactMed, WISER, CHEMM, REMM, LiverTox and more. You’ll learn about the resources through videos, guided tutorials, and discovery exercises”

Info Pro on Searching Social Media

Helen Brown instructs in web searching especially for prospect research, and provides research services. She has uploaded a slide presentation about searching  Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. She uses propect research examples.This posting and the blog are recommended.

Effective Web Searching – social media search tips, Helen Brown (July 10)

I viewed it in AuthorStream – click to move to the next slide, and then on the slide to  play audio.

Dan Russell Lecture

Google search guru Daniel Russell spoke on the The Revolution in Asking and Answering Questions in this video – showing how new search capabilities empower us to ask new questions and get “deep answers”. Video lecture has many good examples from Google search. Closes with demo of conversational style for question and answer.

The Revolution in Asking and Answering Questions, Search Research (May 13, 2014)

Search mavens and gurus

Danny Sullivan celebrated 18 years of writing about search – search engines, algorithms, optimization, marketing – in April – and I’ve been reading his work – mainly at Search Engine Land for most of that time. (Danny Sullivan: 18 years covering search)

Tara Calishain at Research Buzz, another long timer, noted that she published the Official Netscape Guide to Internet Research in 1996.

Which got me thinking about how long I’ve been teaching and blogging about web search. Sandra Wood and I developed The Internet Guide, a web-based comprehensive, self-study course on searching  the Internet in 1996.  At that time searchers also needed to know about  telnet and ftp, mailing lists and usenet. TIG, as we called it, was used by librarians in public libraries across Canada for four or five years  through an agreement between the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto and Industry Canada’s Library Net and VOLnet.


When that contract ended,  I moved  the web-search content into Web Search Guide, a free self-study course on tools and strategies . Around that time (roughly 2002), I began this Internet News blog. I closed the self-study course in 2012  because it was ihoplelessly out of date, but continue with the blog, somewhat as a personal notebook.

Over these years I owe a great deal to other writers on search. In no particular order, they are:

  • Danny Sullivan for his detailed analysis of how search engines work. Fortunately for all interested in search, he continues to contribute substantial articles to Search Engine Land, which he founded.
  • Chris Sherman for search strategies. Sherman, with Gary Price,  wrote The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can’t See. He tweets @CJSherman
  • Gary Price  for curating resources  for librarians from the beginning of Internet time. Follow his posts at  InfoDocket or @Infodocket.. Shirl Kennedy also contributes.
  • Genie Tyburski, a law librarian, for her valuable articles on professional search.  She started Virtual Chase in 1996. Follow her now through Twitter. @GenieTyburski
  • Greg Notess for his substantial website on websearch,  and regular column in Online. Notess also wrote, Teaching Web Search Skills, which helped many search more effectively. Greg @notess tweets occasionally.
  • Tara Calishain, the maven of ResearchBuzz, for teaching me many tricks and approaches to search through her free e-newsletter in the late 1990s, and her books, Web Search Garage, Google Hacks – both editions. Tara continues to gather and observe with a wry humour. @ResearchBuzz
  • Mary Ellen Bates, for her presentations about web search at conferences,  occasional postings, and tweets @mebs.  She too has been generous with her time in helping  information professionals.
  • Karen Blakeman in the United Kingdom for providing a wealth of tip sheets and advice on search strategies and business research.  (RBA Information Services founded in 1989. @karenblakeman)
  • Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea, for explaining so clearly what he learns about the operation of search engines and the intentions of the designers through patent filings.
  • Daniel Russell, Google’s search guru, for the Search Research challenges – especially the answers.  Find him at Google Plus.

I’m sure to think of other names the moment I post this. Follow these gurus through whatever means they are most active: Google Plus, Twitter, or blogs.

What Heartbleed means

Heartbleed bug in the OpenSSL type of encryption technology used on many web servers is of grave concern – enough for Revenue Canada to close online submission of  income tax returns and accessing accounts until it can fix the security hole.  The bug has made it possible for usernames and passwords to be leaked.  It may be necessary for us all to change our passwords on all accounts.

‘Change every password everywhere': Heartbleed’s threat to Web security , Michael Liedtke and Anick Jesdanun, Globe and Mail via AP (Apr 9)

An alarming lapse in Internet security has exposed millions of passwords, credit-card numbers and other sensitive bits of information to potential theft by computer hackers who may have been secretly exploiting the problem before its discovery.

Canada Revenue Agency shuts online service to guard against Heartbleed bug by Tu Thanh Ha and others, Globe and Mail (Apr 9)

The Heartbleed security bug has forced Canada’s tax agency to block public access to its online services just three weeks ahead of the April 30 deadline for filing personal income tax.