Search Terms: Mine vs. Theirs

I mentioned in a previous post that I duplicated the research conducted in the Usmani et al. article:

Usmani, T., Pant, D., Bhatt, A. K. (2012). A comparative study of Google and Bing search engines in context of precision and relative recall parameter. International Journal on Computer Science and Engineering, 4(1), 21-34. (read it online!).

I wanted to explain in detail how I cam up with the search terms that I used in my research.  First, let’s take a look at the terms that Usmani et al. tested:

Usmani et al. their search terms

In their article, the authors offer no explanation as to why they chose these particular searches.  To me, they focus too much on computer science and Indian topics.  Further, the searches do not relate to one another as they get more complex.  For example, in Q2, economics, search engines, and evaluation of the computer world do not relate directly to one another.

I figured I could do much better than that.  Why not test out searches that are on popular topics, or topics that are important to my library’s patrons?  Why not make them relate to one another to see if there is a pattern?  Here’s what I came up with:

my search terms

The first thing you will notice is that I have 6 queries instead of 5.  That’s because I wanted an even balance between the “popular” searches and the “patron searches.”  The popular searches, Q4-6, were derived from Google Zeitgeist  for 2012 and Bing’s Top Searches of 2012 Report.   Among the top pop culture searches were American Idol and Hunger Games, and for travel Hong Kong was the most popular.

For the patron searches, I used statistics gathered from the UCR Library’s website searches and my experience in staffing the reference desk at our Rivera Library.  Our website tracks every search entered into our search box, and so I found that the top search was, by a huge margin, JSTOR.  Here’s a list of the top searches on the UCR library website:

top searches UCR

I find it fascinating that patrons are searching for Google and Yahoo using our search box – instead of just typing with “.com” it into their browser address bar, but that’s for another research project!  From this list I found two of my search terms, JSTOR and textbooks (from the popularity of our “reserve” search).  One of the most common questions we receive at the reference desk is how to find and distinguish scholarly journal articles from everything else, and how to find citation style guides.  So, those concepts are also incorporated into my search terms.
I expanded on all of these search terms to fill in for all three types of searches: simple one-word, simple multi-word, and complex multi-word.  Unlike the Usmani et al. research, my terms have a common thread between them.  For example, the Q5 searches, singing, American Idol, and “How to sing well” have a clear relationship to one another.  As you will see in the results of my research, this is very important for showing how the precision of search results changes with the complexity of the search.
So, that’s how I chose the terms that I tested.  Do you agree or disagree with my methodology?  What popular questions and searches have you noticed at your library?
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Categories: Research

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