Monday, September 21, 2009

Revisiting "as is" Keywords

Having revisited the fundamentals for turning a question into a query in the last post, the next question naturally is: of the concepts I should include in a query, which ones are good "as is?"

"As is" presumes there are some words to start with. This is where most students start: the teacher presents a question to be answered by turning it into a query and doing some online research. The vast majority (nearly all) of students will take the words they are given and enter them into a query. Very few try a different word than the ones given. Effective queries typically involve searching for the "right" keyword; "right" simply means the word used experts.

In the case of the Buffalo challenge (last post), buffalo is OK, but there is a better word: bison.

Words that are usually good "as is" are proper nouns and numbers. When turning a question into a query, it's usually a good idea to think about whether there is a proper noun that can be used in place of one of the concepts. Ineffective words tend to be verbs, adjectives and adverbs: parts of speech for which there are many options (remember the 1 in 5 rule). Pronouns and prepositions, by the way, tend to be "stop words:" ignored by the search engine.

Several Query Checklist items overlap: the number of concepts and how many to use, words that can be used "as is" versus those that are either too general or too specific. Most queries can be improved by using more specific words. Occasionally a keyword is too specific and produces few or irrelevant results. The technical terms, hyponymns and hypernymns, define words along a continuum from very specific to very general. Effective queries replace general terms with more specific ones.

Next time you query, think "is there a more specific word I could use?" If none come to mind, check the snippets.

Next time: words with multiple meanings.

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