Saturday, 2 January 2010

Information Retrieval

Information can be stored in a huge variety of different places and in a wide range of different forms. It isn't always easy to find the information that you want.

We all need to hone our Information Retrieval skills in order to operate successfully in a world that sometimes seems to be drowning in information; not all of it of very high quality, and very little of it directly relevant to a particular query.

there are a lot of useful tools that we can use to make Information Retrieval easier.

From the users perspective Information Retrieval starts with an information need. The user realises (or at least vaguely thinks) that there is something they need to know. They have what Belkin, Oddy and Brooks call an "Anomalous State of Knowledge'. There is a gap in their understanding which needs to be filled.

Over the last few months there have been several times when I have had an information need related to my work on DITA. My usual first step has been to go back to my lecture notes and see if there is anything in them or the references which will meet my need.

The websites listed in the references are often an excellent starting point for a bit of browsing about a subject. Moving from site to site via hyperlinks can lead to interesting finds and it helps to give me an overview of a particular topic.

Search Engines like Google or Bing are obviously very helpful. I often use Google to locate additional resources to help me complete the lab tasks for this module.

When using search engines for in depth research it is best to use Boolean operators in order to make sure that you locate the most relevant resources. They use Boolean logic to improve the relevancy of the documents retrieved. They allow you to specify in more detail what kind of documents you are interested in. The three most important ones are AND, OR, NOT.

Technology makes finding information much easier. That said it does bring its own challenges. The most important one is not a technical issue. Each individual has to take responsibility for evaluating the quality of the information that they find.

Google will find thousands of documents for us. We can make sure that we phrase our search requests correctly and use Boolean Operators and similar techniques to improve the results that we find. Ultimately however it is up to us, the users, to evaluate the information, and to use it effectively.

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