Re: Full text searches

Subject: Re: Full text searches
From: Bonni Graham <bonnig -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 1996 19:51:09 -0800

You wrote:
>than they're worth. To an old hand, though, they're priceless. Since I'm
>usually writing to the lowest denominator, however, I prefer to keep full
>text searches out of the mix.

I've got a nifty little utility that adds this functionality on to a WinHelp 3.0
file. You've still got keywords (and oughta use them -- see below), but you've
got this tool, as well.

I'm usually writing to the LCD, too, but more often their LCD-ness has to do with
their comfort level with and skill at using computer, and not with their
knowledge of the field. So in terms of searching, I may NOT have included all
the terms they'll need in the keyword list.

>hundreds of topics, searching for the right one. Now, a seasoned pro might
>use the search string "account, setting up" and get a few topics. But few
>users are so sophisticated.

Actually, this would only result in a "hit" if the text actually uses this string
anywhere in it, which it probably doesn't. The utlity I use ranks the topics in
terms of number of "hits" (number of times the term appears in the topic) on the
theory that if a term is mentioned frequently, that's the mostly likely target
topic. The utility also provides a kind of text-only preview area, so the user
can see if their chosen target is in fact the one they want before jumping there
and leaving the search tool.

>Another thing that bothers me about full text searches is that it gives the
>writer a graceless way out of designing a good keyword index, which demands
>a good and thoughtful consideration of the user's needs. I put it to one

But it doesn't have to be either/or. The utility I mentioned earlier allows
both, and I beleive the WinHelp 4.0 engine still allows keywords. And while it
give the writer the way out, a canny writer will not USE this way out. Full-text
searches are great if someone needs to look up a term you didn't think to include
as a keyword, *provided that term actually exists somewhere in the text*. In
other words, if the user searches "framis" and the thing is called a "widget",
they ain't never gonna find it. Keywords are STILL the only way to get
synonym-lookup in a help file.

>also burden the user. It's a Hobbs choice. I prefer to err on the side of
>anticipating the client's needs and trying to take most of the burden on
>myself. Still, there were dissents at the meeting, and I'd expect nothing
>less here.

Well, happy to oblige! ; )

I prefer to include both searching techniques -- I feel that the more entry
points you provide for users the more likely those users are to find the
information they require.

And speaking of taking the burden on ourselves, anyone else want to kick
Microsoft over that (*&( search mechansim that runs when you open a help file for
the first time? Couldn't they have put this in the compiler? GRRRRR.

Bonni Graham
Manual Labour
bonnig -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com

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