Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Revisiting words with multiple meanings

Of the items on the Query Checklist, one that could be dropped is #6: avoiding words that have multiple meanings.

If your query includes an adequate number of keywords--and not more than necessary--a word with multiple meanings does little to prevent you from finding what you seek. From my perspective, today's search engines (the ones that continue to develop) are less sensitive to multiple meanings and more sensitive to contextual clues provided by the other keywords. This is why a search for roman spears no longer returns top results about Brittney Spears. A few years back this type of search challenge was pretty easy to construct: find a word with a very popular or common usage and use it in a search for a less common object or idea.

Nowadays, the pairing of words in a meaningful context excludes other uses of the terms. As long as the accompanying term is sufficiently unique, using a word with multiple meanings is not a problem. The challenge is to find the word that uniquely modifies the more ambiguous term.

If some of the 21cif Search Challenges seem easier than they once were, credit search engines for producing more focused results.

It's still a good idea to be mindful of words with multiple meanings and pair them with unique terms. If you are looking for information on a disc jockey whose name is "Bill Gates" you definitely need some unique terms to ferret out someone other than the Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. This one still may be challenging.

Finally, does it need to be stated that one-word searches are confounded by words that have more than one meaning?

Next time: revisiting stop words and clutter words

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