Searching is Simple

Searching is Simple.

Section 1

Searching is simple. It starts with a question. It ends with an answer. Everything between is searching. Much of it has to do with the tools you use. Select the right tool and you can get to the answer almost by default. Luckily, for any given topic there tends to be just a handful of must-use tools. For more complicated questions, there are usually plenty of people to ask for assistance.

The answers you are seeking will be found in a selection of different formats. In this I mean books, articles, interviews, and more. This is a very convenient concept and forms the foundation to all our work both here and in the Spire Project. Few research tools cover more than a single format; those that do, tend to cover each format poorly. Start a search by selecting the specific format you are seeking. Then, select your preferred search tool from a small collection specific to that format. To get the information, simply follow through and read, search or interview. Everything follows naturally.

Have a Question.
Select a Format.
Select a Search Tool.
There are just a few formats to consider.

Books
. . . . . Dense, factual, comprehensive and a minimum of 6 months to a year old.
Articles
. . . . . Shorter than books but focused on one topic.
News
. . . . . Short and shallow. Immediate.
Statistics
. . . . . Factual. More reliable.
Theses
. . . . . Very thick. Deeply researched. Esoteric.
Webpages
. . . . . Immediate, mixed quality, with limited factual support.
Interviews
. . . . . Immediate, varied quality, partly digested.

Each format has a selection of simple tools to find information. Many of these tools will be on the internet – which may mean easily accessible. A word of caution: try not to confuse search tools that happen to be on the internet with searching internet information. The Amazon.com book catalogue is a search tool useful in locating books. Though on the web, searching Amazon is part of a book search, not a web search. A search of the Reuters newswire is a news search, not a web search, even though Reuters releases current news on the web. Each format should remain distinct in your mind.

Tools to Find Books

  1. Some books, particularly classics, are free on the internet through efforts like Project Gutenberg.
  2. Libraries allow you to read books. Library catalogues are frequently online.
  3. The largest libraries, like the Library of Congress and the British Library, list millions of books in their online catalogues.
  4. Most currently available ‘in print’ books are listed in national Books-in-Print databases.
  5. Each country maintains a special government publication database.
  6. Lastly, online bookstore catalogues like that of Barnes & Noble, list a sizeable portion of current in-print books.

Tools to Find Webpages

  1. Global search engines index hundreds of millions of webpages for free text searching. Consider Altavista and All-the-Web.
  2. Global directories list resources by category. Consider Yahoo or the Open Directory Project.
  3. Regional search engines and directories focus more tightly on regionally important topics.
  4. Lastly, more specialized search tools, from search engines which focus on specific topics (like maths or government webpages), services which link you to important topic-specific websites, and services which manually review websites, all can take you further.

Tools to Find News

  1. Current news is found in newspapers and the evening news. News clips can be delivered electronically, or purchased through specialist news clipping services.
  2. Newswires redistribute regional news to a larger audience. Many newswires release their text news free online.
  3. Specialized search engines like NewsBlip and TotalNews aggregate current online news.
  4. State libraries archive past copies of regional papers.
  5. Individual newspapers maintain libraries of previous articles. Many are available as commercial databases.
  6. Larger commercial databases unite the news from many prominent newspapers. These databases of news articles stretch back many years.

This story is repeated with all the formats information comes in.

To drum this in with repetition, searching starts with a question. Select the format (book, news or webpage). Next, select one or more tools from our short list of search tools for that format. Want to understand the lifecycle of the spider? A book should prove useful. Let’s look at either our local library book catalogue or a big commercial bookstore catalogue like Barnes & Noble (bn.com).

Search. Read. Voila, the lifecycle of the spider.

If searching appears a little boring at this point, you have not visited a library recently. The excitement comes in finding the information. The rest is dull indeed.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The information revolution washes over us, picks us up and pushes us forward like so much driftwood. From now on our lives will forever be awash with information. We will eat it. Breathe it. Live in it. Drown in it. Some of us will even learn to liveĀ for it. Those most capable will have the skills to search, sift and sort information.
The information revolution is not about primary research, lab coats and discovery. It is about a surplus of information. The searching we have just discussed is not a particularly creative process. Simple searching is not sufficient to deal with the great tide of information moving against us. But then, simple searching lacks finesse. Simple searching is, well, simple.

Searching is one of those most delightful tasks where skill is everything. A search without talent will give you just a taste. Like pottery perhaps. Anyone can get something but only an expert can accomplish wonders. Quality information, reliable answers, effective coverage of resources; it takes skill to get to this level.

Advances in technology and the delivery of search assistance has made searching easier than ever before. Many search tasks can be accomplished without any experience. With more challenging questions a novice will get results – results they will be proud of. But not results they should be proud of. With experience, you will recognize how much more is possible.

Let’s proceed by adding a little more complexity.