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Developing an information search strategy: Browsing

Simple but efficient actions for a documentalist to assess the latest developments on a topic

Documentary efficiency of clicking

Hypertext links add the relations suggested by authors to those suggested by classifications.

A documentary strategy may rely directly on browsing and bouncing and prove efficient for several reasons:

  • links are meaningful because those who established them position themselves
  • serendipity

A search method which was studied in particular by Olivier Ertzscheid, serendipity consists in combining randomness and intelligence by exploiting unexpected discoveries to fuel your work.

1- Players position themselves and the links they establish are meaningful

Links are established by players who position and orientate themselves. They are also key elements for orientating others.

Hypertext links, bibliographies, co-signatures, related key words and inbound links have an intellectual and social meaning and increase search efficiency. Hence the need to speculate on their purpose:

  • proximity or intellectual affinity
  • social and professional relationships
  • inbreeding
  • references or deference
  • Simple appreciation "I like/dislike" (via Facebook, for instance)

2- Just click

  • names of authors and co-authors.
  • web pages and articles cited.
  • citing articles (possible on some databases).
  • review names.
  • key words and related key words.
  • names of institutions.
  • and examine the socio-cognitive context of the key documents to an underlying question.

This browsing may seem like a maze at first glance. However, it will gradually reveal much cited authors, important reviews, seminars, key words, proximities and gaps, a centre and a periphery. A socio-documentary graph may shape itself and point to ideas which in turn will lead to another browsing.

This exploration strategy is at the heart of Google's ranking system, which places documents at the top of the list if they are in the middle of a citation graph. Applied automatically by robots, this strategy yields steadily satisfactory results for simple requests. Applied by a researcher who thinks and orientates themselves from other searches, it will produce more interesting results.

If the researcher manages to add their own subtlety to a machine's processing power (infometric, bibliometric, scientometric or webometric tools), the results will get even more interesting. Documentary tools such as Google Scholar, the Web of Science or Scopus offer more and more bibliometric features including for beginner use of documentary search.

Hypertext links

As we may think ", Vannevar Bush used to say to define the first hypertext on paper. 

We may add: Thinking together, thinking in leaps.