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Posts Tagged ‘Boolean strings’

Researchers, information professionals, patent searchers and recruiters all require effective search to perform their duties, often relying on form-based query builders. However, these tools require the use of complex Boolean syntax and offer limited support for error checking or optimization. Moreover, this approach precipitates a number of other issues:

  • Systematic literature review is the cornerstone of evidence-based medicine, but the search strategies used often contain errors
  • Search strategies can be improved and optimised thorough peer-review, but the platforms for this practice are rarely open to public scrutiny
  • Managing search strategies using document-centric tools such as MS Word or PDF introduces errors through unwanted conversion of control characters (e.g. quotation marks and truncation symbols), removal of spaces, addition of line breaks etc.
  • Copy and pasting searches from documents/spreadsheets into search boxes introduces further errors
  • Publishing search strategies as supplementary materials scales poorly and data can become lost over time

So I’m pleased to share the following webinar, which discusses these challenges and offers some solutions. It is presented by Farhad Shokraneh, who is an information specialist in the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group at the University of Nottingham. He is co-author of search chapter in Cochrane Handbook and an invited editor for Systematic Reviews and World Journal of Meta-Analysis. The webinar was kindly hosted by the Knowledge Synthesis Interest Group of the Canadian Health Libraries Association.

Think outside the search box: https://www.2dsearch.com/

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Summer’s finally here, and with it comes another milestone for 2dSearch: alternative visualisations. The default ‘Nested’ view has its strengths, but it isn’t to everyones liking. So we’ve added two completely new ways to view, understand and optimise your searches:

  • Tree View, which uses the metaphor of the family tree, with a root node at the top and successive generations of children below
  • Inline View, which maps hierarchical structure onto physical structure with groups aligned a common midline, allowing a traditional left-to-right ‘Boolean string’ reading

And of course you still have the Nested View, which maps hierarchical structure onto a series of nested containers. And all of this for free! There’s lots more details in our Medium post, but for the best experience just try them out for yourself.

Think outside the search box: https://www.2dsearch.com/

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Just published the following video on Youtube, which complements last week’s piece on the topic of How to debug and optimise Boolean strings. As always, comment & feedback welcome.

Struggling with complex Boolean searches? Editing Boolean strings is inefficient & error prone.

With 2dSearch you can visualize your search in 2D, then drag & drop blocks to optimise and refine. Use automated query suggestions to refine your search. Works with Bing, Google, Google Scholar, PubMed, TRIP, Epistemonikos and more. When you’re done, you can save & share your own collection of search templates and best practices.

Think outside the search box: https://www.2dsearch.com/

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Just published the following video on Youtube, Twitter et al. Sharing here for completeness!

Not seeing the results you expected? Debugging complex searches can be a frustrating experience. Don’t waste time editing Boolean strings: find and fix errors the visual way. Visualise your search in 2D, switch parts on & off, enable and disable terms…experiment and optimise, then save and share.

Think outside the search box: https://www.2dsearch.com/

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Do you use search suggestions on Google? I’ll wager you do: they save time, help to minimise error-prone keystrokes, and even if not consciously processed, can give us the inspiration we need to form better queries than we’d originally contemplated.

But query suggestions, as we currently understand them, have their limitations. In particular, they are predicated on the assumption that most queries are composed of relatively short sequences of keywords, perhaps with some elementary linguistic structure. This is of course largely true for web search, but for many advanced or professional search applications, the assumption breaks down.

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When was the last time you used ‘advanced search’ on a website or information resource? Go on, admit it – unless you’re a professional searcher, the answer is probably measured in months (if not years). Why is this? Partly, it might be that the concept itself is flawed, on the basis that an effective search experience should place ‘advanced’ search tools in the hands of all users as and when they are able and willing to use them.

But mostly, I’d wager, it’s down to execution. Invariably, instances of advanced search are predicated on the notion of either parametric search or Boolean string search (or both), with all their flaws and idiosyncrasies. Inevitably, most users vote with their feet, but advanced search is retained as a concession to a more vocal group of ‘power users’. Not that their needs are not legitimate, of course – quite the contrary – but my point here is that support for that requirement and the requirement itself are two very different things.

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Why are Boolean strings so ubiquitous? Recruiters use them, lawyers use them, librarians use them, and many more. But as a universal format for expressing information needs, they leave a lot to be desired.

Which is why I recently posted an article called “This is why Boolean strings don’t work” on Medium. In that post, I outline three fundamental shortcomings inherent to the approach, and offer a call to action to consider alternatives. I hope you’ll join me in the pursuit of an alternative.

For further details, check out the post on Medium, or have a look at our alternative approach.

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