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Al Geist noted: <<Indexes may be helpful to those who use them, but
for online work, I always go to the search function.>>
That tends to be where I start too, and as I noted in my previous
post, this is common. But it often disappoints me, and then I go to
the index. However:
<<To me, the index is part of the linear form of documentation...a
holdover from the print days.>>
Quite the contrary. Indexes were the original nonlinear hypertext,
since no index presents information in a sequence that matches the
sequence in the text: the sequence is alphabetical and conceptual.
Thus, a good index provides access to any point in a document, not to
points in linear sequence. The underlying document is, of course,
linear if it's printed and sequential (but not necessarily linear) if
it's online, but the index will in no way tell you about that
structure without a lot of "reverse engineering".
<<If I don't know the term, the index won't help me; however, if I
know the concept, the search function will.>>
That's actually backwards to how it works. The example I like to use
to illustrate how this works was learning how to type accented
characters in an old word processor I once used (possibly WordPerfect
5?): you could search for accents, foreign letters, special
characters, and a few other likely terms using full-text search, but
only if you knew that the authors had used "overstrike mode" (which
was how you told the software to insert the correct accent) could you
possibly find what you were looking for. However, a good index would
have included all these synonyms, and possibly more, thereby ensuring
that if you didn't know "overstrike mode", you could still find what
you were looking for.
That's the difference: Full-text search only lets you find the words
the authors used, and if you don't know those words, you're SOL. An
index provides you with alternatives. Somewhere in between lies the
idea of full-text search supplemented with meta tags that serve the
same role as the index's synonyms. But if you're creating those meta
tags, there's no additional cost to extract them and create an index
-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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