BIG Little Research Tips

I’ve been reading Tom Peters’ book “The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence.” It inspired me to think about little big things to pursue excellence in online searching and research.

Today I am beginning an ongoing series of posts that will help with your online research and hopefully make it more relevant and useful. Of course, should you find yourself in the position where you aren’t finding the information you think you should be finding, or if you are finding too much irrelevant info and can’t figure out how to filter out the noise, call me! (Maybe that should be the #1 tip!)

I’m not sure exactly how many tips I’ll come up with, but right now I have 50 queued up for you. I’m going to post a few at a time, so come back often to check out what’s new. They are not in order of importance, since every search is different and has a different need. Feel free to leave a comment or email if you have anything to add.

#1. Relevance Is Your Friend

Most search engines default to relevance ranking when they display the list of results to your query. Generally, the relevance ranking is pretty good. I suspect most users stay with the top few results and get at least some sort of answer to what they were looking for. If they don’t, rather than looking down the list, most people will adjust the search to get a new set of results.

What does “relevance ranking” mean? When a search engine retrieves a list of results it is doing so based on the terms you entered in the search box and how well they match up with the terms on the page it found. Sometimes it can be word for word, or some times it can be based on word stems, synonyms, or another type of mathematical algorithm. In any case, the pages found are the pages that search engine has indexed. Don’t be lulled into thinking that one search engine covers the entirety of all the web pages out there.

#2. Relevance Is Not Your Friend

Sometimes, relevance ranking distorts the results and gives you results that don’t necessarily help with your research. When you are looking for news, for example, you may want the most recent items first, not the most times your terms show up in a story. 

Maybe you need the oldest result. Perhaps there is a government report about your topic but it was written twenty years ago. Today, people still may site that report or discuss it in a blog post, but that won’t help you if you need the original source.

Maybe you are looking for something close by or local to your area, and the results keep pointing you to information from another city or area of the world. You may need to change the results from relevance (because it is not relevant to you) to location based.

Look for the settings or tools in the menu bar above your search results to adjust the way the results are displayed or what is returned at the top of the list. Depending on what database or search engine you are using, the tools may differ, so be vigilant and look under the hood.

Those are the tips for today! Check back soon for the next couple of tips.

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