Index vs. Search?

Subject: Index vs. Search?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Zen C <zenizenc -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 07 Sep 2007 10:08:17 -0400

Zen C wondered: <<Does it make sense to have a search function if I
have a good index for web help?>>

Definitely. People have learned to expect a search function, and you
should always try to support their working assumptions. In fact, I
recall reading some studies years ago that suggests readers turn to
the search function before they look anywhere else. In addition, even
the best index won't always capture all the words your audience uses
to search.

But the index is important too: it provides context that a search
tool cannot provide, and attempts to express that context in the
words that readers will use to look for topics. It also groups
related topics in such a way that if your first keyword isn't exactly
what you were looking for, one of the adjacent keywords may be.

Particularly for keywords that can be expected to appear frequently
(e.g., "editing" in my book), the index provides the only way to
narrow down the hits. A "keyword in context" search function offers a
reasonable compromise between searching and indexing if you lack the
time or expertise to create a good index; in Adobe Reader, for
instance, the search results appear in a little tab off to the right
of the document screen, and show some of the surrounding text so you
can see whether a particular search result is what you're looking for.

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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Index vs. Search: From: Zen C

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