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Boolean Search Rules (con't.)

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Boolean Shortcomings

The Boolean method of information retrieval, being based on the absence or presence of each keyword according to the directions dictated by the three Boolean operators, has no gray area. It is all black and white. Either something is there or it is not.

This causes a couple difficulties in attempting to present the most relevant documents in response to a query.

The first catch is due to synonymy. This is where several unique words, such as cat and feline, have the same meaning yet only the exact word submitted will be included in the search.

There are many online glossaries which can be consulted to assist users in determining the best or alternative keywords. A way to include either synonym in the query would be to utilize the Boolean OR operator as in - cat OR feline.

A second difficulty is due to polysemy. Polysemy refers to words that have more than one meaning, such as pen. Pen could refer to a writing instrument, a containing area, the act of containing or the act of writing. It can be either a noun or a verb. By using pen as a keyword, its polysemy will result in many irrelevant documents being returned in the retrieval. No distinction is made for the context of the keyword.

Some search engines attempt to remedy these issues by allowing gray areas into a purely Boolean model. They allow internally determined synonyms to be includable in the search. This is sometimes called a fuzzy search.

Focus The Search

Although technological advances are on the horizon which might better determine the context of the words entered by the searcher - at this time word context is not considered. Thus a query for "orange" would return results about a color, a fruit, William of Orange, Orange County and a myriad of other topics. To assist the search engine in honing in on the correct context, add additional words. This is called adding focus to the search. For example, to find information about the New Year's Day football game try - orange bowl. Most other contexts included will greatly diminish.

Know How Your Customer Searches
Create a Bullseye on Your Webpage

The Boolean instructions are just one way to refine a query. Let's look at another way.

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