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Information Research FAQ v.4.7 (Part 5/6)

Information Research FAQ: Resources, Tools & Training
Archive-name: internet/info-research-faq/part5
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: April 2002
Copyright: (c) 2001 David Novak
Maintainer: David Novak <>

                  Information Research FAQ     (Part 5/6)

            100 pages of search techniques, tactics and theory
          by David Novak of the Spire Project (

    Welcome. This FAQ addresses information literacy; the skills, tools and
    theory of information research. Particular attention is paid to the
    role of the internet as both a reservoir and gateway to information

    The FAQ is written like a book, with a narrative and pictures. You have
    found your way to part five, so do backtrack to the beginning. If you
    are lost, this FAQ always resides as text at and
    and with pictures at

    ***    The Spire Project also includes a 3 hour public seminar titled
    ***    Exceptional Internet Research. This is a fast paced seminar
    ***    supported with a great deal of webbing, reaching to skills and
    ***    research concepts beyond the ground covered on our website and
    ***    this FAQ. has a synopsis.
    ***    I am in Europe, seminaring in Ireland and Europe though I
    ***    will be returning to the US shortly, and South Australia for
    ***    a seminar this October.

    David Novak -
    The Spire Project : and

                              Search Tactics.
                                 Section 7
    The Pharaoh called on Shakh to negotiate the annual royal donation with
    the priests of Karnak temple complex. The Pharaoh was not wise in such
    matters and had previously given far too much to the detriment of the
    state. It was not wise to voice such sentiments. Shakh instead set
    about negotiating a figure ample to their needs but insufficient to
    further expand the temple complex.

    Shakh wisely chose to negotiate up river at the Kom Ombo temple - away
    from Karnak. Choosing words carefully, he deftly rejected the initial
    estimate of the temple's needs, then spoke calmly, eyes tight, that the
    Pharaoh had decided Karnak should supply the priests to the Egyptian
    army - at current expenses.

    It was a clever ruse. The negotiated royal donation was significantly
    reduced and the priests were happy to be excluded from military duty.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    If searching be a combination of science, art and experience, then the
    science of searching is the easiest of the three. There are just a few
    search elements to remember and search techniques to apply.

    Firstly, there are the tactics associated with free text searching;
    that of Boolean, proximity, truncation, field searching, target
    searching and further enhancements.

    Secondly, there are the basic classification schemes: the Dewey decimal
    system (for books) The WIPO and US Patent Classification Systems (for
    patents), the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Codes (for
    industry) and a number of additional classification systems founded on
    the same principles.

    Thirdly, there is the way information is organized. A book has a
    table-of-contents and an index, large directories like Kompass and Gale
    Directory of Databases are arranged with so many indexes (geographic,
    subject, product, name) that the contact information is often separated
    and numbered, then referenced as a number. The results are initially
    confusing. Statistics similarly have ways of presenting information
    (pie charts, line charts, charts with ranges which do not reach zero)
    and again, this can be confusing the first time you see them.

    Let's start with the technique associated with searching a text

    Straight Word Searching:
    All search situations allow you to ask for the presence of words in a
    block of text. Obviously it helps if you ask for the right word or
    words. If you ask for the right words, they you will quickly locate the
    information you desire. For best results you obviously want to choose a
    word or words which accurately describes what you are looking for.
    Prepare to search the text several times with different terms, and
    consider the possibility of different spellings for the same words.

    Straight word searching is fairly ubiquitous on the internet. You can
    always search a webpage with the search function of your web browser.
    Alternatively, you can search by placing a large amount of text into a
    word processor and using the in-built search functions. Your
    word-processor can handle large files like website traffic logbooks and
    archived files of past mailing list discussion. There are also
    specialist tools like the shareware WinGrep
    ( for searching many
    files on your computer hard drive. (Alternatively, consider

    Text Fragments:
    The simplest refinement to straight searching involves searching for
    parts of a word - if you are interested in surfing, search for surf
    better yet, search for " surf" with the space in front of the word.

    Some search engines don't allow searches for text fragments, and you
    must explain your intention by adding a truncation mark (usually * or
    ?) to the ends of words. For most professional researchable databases,
    alga? will include both algae and algal (as in algal bloom). I was once
    badly lost because of the spelling difference between aging and ageing.
    There are a number of improvements on this concept to. Sometimes there
    are special symbols for a non-space character car?a, sometimes there is
    automatic awareness of multiple spellings (colour & color). Sometimes
    there is even automatic awareness of synonyms. Often you are initially
    unaware important information is indexed under slightly different
    spelling, so truncation is strongly suggested for most searching.

    An improvement on truncation is the opportunity to look directly at a
    list of words, either keywords, or descriptors. This allows you to see
    the range of spellings before you search. This is also ideal for
    searches of company names or proper places so you can select only the
    words you are interested in. In a simple way, some library catalogues
    present subject searches in this way: a list of subject categories
    arranged alphabetically.

    Boolean operators:
    Changing tack, searching for multiple words calls for "and, or, not"
    concepts. I want this word and that word, but not another word. It is
    simple enough. Many of the search engines allow for this with the
    -sign, and commercial databases often add brackets. Use of the not
    symbol is frowned upon in textbooks (too easy to dismiss information
    you are interested in it is said), but the 'and & or' is absolutely
    necessary for complex questions like I want [(spaghetti or noodle) and
    pasta] or (Italian and cuisine). With most internet search engines, but
    not all commercial searches, you will find 'and' is assumed.

    Proximity operators:
    The next dramatic improvement fixes the position of words relative to
    one another. In this category we have adjacent (often written as adj,
    next, or "inserted in quotes"), near (by how many words), or in the
    same sentence. Often it is wise to stretch the distance a little
    (within two), but where available, proximity is best way to remove the
    dross without affecting the value of information. "Patent near
    Research" is much more precise than "Patent and Research".

    By separating information into different fields, we can selectively
    search different portions of the information. I want the title to show
    the words "Patent" and the abstract to include the words "Patent
    Research". Field searching is a common way to refine a search, but be
    aware searching titles is very likely to remove some desired
    information, where as searching descriptors and not abstracts may
    dramatically improve the content.

    Date Fields:
    Are you really interested in information more than 15 years old?
    Library catalogues frequently have many aging books, and date limiting
    is very wise.

    Further Enhancements:
    Ranking and the ability to search multiple databases are some of the
    further enhancements that select databases permit. There are also
    advances that do not have a grand impact - like natural language.
    Natural interpretation allows the searcher to phrase a question with
    common sentence structure. The computer then interprets what you want.
    In theory natural language is liberating but in practice the strengths
    of Boolean, proximity and field searching far exceed the benefits of
    natural language searching. Lastly, there are special techniques like
    target searching available on a few systems that bear discussing.
    Sorting allows you to shape the presentation of the information. When
    applied to financial information, this is particularly valuable. Alerts
    allow you to automatically repeat a previous search and have the
    information sent to you. Multiple database searching allows you to
    search a collection of databases concurrently. Ranking positions
    certain information at the top. These techniques can be valuable in
    certain circumstances.

    These technical options improve the blunt system of simply asking for a
    word. You will find most search functions allow for some of these
    options and all commercial quality databases provide for numerous
    functions. The good news is an experienced searcher can accomplish
    wonders - collecting articles of 70%+ interest regularly on expensive
    database. The bad news is most of the best of search technology is not
    implemented on all the databases you will search and only occasionally
    on databases free on the internet.

    There are several search techniques associated with library catalogues.
    Beyond the simple author/title/subject search, we should also consider
    searching by Dewey number, and searching first for any title - then
    selecting the subject fields.

    Dewey Searching
    The Dewey decimal system is similar in many ways to the patent
    classification system. Each step is divided into 10 - getting more and
    more specific. See this CAL State Dewey list
    ( to get an idea of
    its structure. This number here refers to a book called Australian
    government assistance to local government projects:

    The Dewey system is arranged by Discipline, not subject groupings. Each
    digit to the right becomes progressively more detailed. The system
    works well in organizing books - and libraries expand it to suit their
    needs - but it is different from a subject catalogue. Because it is
    arranged by discipline, subject fields may be split.

    In searching, we want to duplicate the walk to the shelves and browsing
    other publications that share similar numbers. We do this
    electronically by searching/browsing books that share most of a number.
    Drop a digit - expand the field of interest.

    The Dewey system is a bit congested in certain areas, giving rise to
    very long numbers. For this and historical reasons, several national
    libraries do not use the Dewey system. The Library of Congress, for
    example, has its own classification scheme (Outlined here ).

    Subject Searching
    We can do better than searching the subject index of a library
    catalogue. Try instead to search for a book which interests you - which
    you can usually find easily with a simple title search - and then
    selecting the subjects that book are indexed under.

    Many of the library catalogues are making this particularly easy by
    incorporating links into the catalogue results. A quick look at the
    Library of Congress, for example, will show how all the subject fields
    are linked to further searching.

    We can show this in action by looking at the book Earth Time [1] by
    David Suzuki, at my State Library. As you can see down the bottom, it
    is indexed under Social Ecology [2] and Human Ecology [3].

    This kind of 'locate then expand' is an effective search technique used
    in a number of situations. In commercial databases, we may search for a
    company then expand to make sure we catch any different company
    spellings. We may also wish to search for a book, then search for books
    by the same publisher.


                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Patent Classification
    All patents are given a special number. Unfortunately, each country has
    a distinct numbering scheme: US patents are assigned a consecutive
    patent number (currently 6 million+). Australian patents have an
    alphanumerical which includes the year. Canadian patents are numbered.

    Above these numbering systems, we have the International Patent
    Classification (IPC), by the World Intellectual Property Organization
    (WIPO). Most every country uses the IPC to classify patents, save the
    US. US Patent Classification is similar in many ways.

    International Patent Classification
    Thanks to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the
    International Patent Classification (IPC) works as a universal
    classification for patents. Started in 1975 and periodically updated,
    we currently use IPC 7th Edition.

    Section, Class & Group. The International Patent Classification looks
    like this: A 02 J 1/00
    At the heart of the IPC is the unique coding of every invention by its
    specific form or function. The system is highly specific and logical,
    and includes numerous cross-references to other codes of similar form
    or function. Think of this as the Dewey Decimal System for patents.

    The first letter is the section - one of eight broad categories labeled
    A through G. 'A' represents Human Necessities. 'B' covers Transport.

    Each section is divided into Classes. Each class includes two numbers.
    In addition, each class is divided into subclasses, the letters which
    follow the first number.

    Each subclass is then divided into groups and subgroups. The number
    before the slash is the group, the number after the slash is the
    subgroup. Subgroups only have two digits, with further numbers
    considered as resting behind a decimal point: 3/46 then 3/464, then

    Thus A 47 J 27/09 includes the safety device on your rice cooker and B
    63 G 11/00 covers your various aircraft carriers.

    The IPC system is fully described in these published directories:
    The Official Catchword Index by World Intellectual Property
    International Patent Classification: Guide, Survey of Classes & Summary
    of Main Groups
    International Patent Classification: Section G - Physics
    International Patent Classification: Guide

    Thanks to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), these
    full documents are online. We now have direct access to the
    International Patent Classification (7th Edition): Official Catchword
    Index, Guide to the IPC, and the complete Class and Section books.

    Note: The International Patent Classification includes plenty of
    internal references - indicating this group is similar to another
    group; motorized boats take precedence over boat function. These
    internal references are important to effectively searching databases.
    There is more to the IPC, and we strongly recommend you read the
    Introductory Manual to the International Patent Classification (IPC)
    found on the WIPO website.

    US Patent Classification
    US Patents are classified with 400+ main classes and thousands of
    subclasses. Sound similar to the International Patent Classification?
    It is. US patents are numbered sequentially.

    This means you can find US patents:
    - by full text searching through the USPTO database CASSIS (found at US
    patent libraries),
    - by bibliographic & abstract text searching online through the USPTO
    or IBM Patent Library,
    - by US Patent number by US Patent Classification class & subclass - to
    list similar patents by an effective combination search
    - by the searching recent notices in the Official Gazette... available

    The USPTO allows you to search or browse the US Manual of
    Classification online. The Internet Patent Search System lets you to
    browse US Patent titles by class/subclass.

    A little more information can be found with the Patent Guide to using
    CASSIS, at the University of Michigan.

    Patent Search Strategies
    Here are the avenues open to you:
    1_ Full text search and retrieval through a commercial database.
    2_ Free bibliographic & abstract searching online followed by selective
    patent perusal/ordering.
    3_ Paging manually through the relevant official gazette (the US
    gazette is searchable).
    4_ Retrieval of the titles & abstracts within appropriate
    class/subclass then selective review and patent perusal/ordering.

    This last avenue is particularly resourceful and swift. Start by
    reaching for The Official Catchword Index, a book by World Intellectual
    Property Organization (WIPO). This will tell you the possible
    class/subclasses that will interest you. You could word-search a patent
    database and note all the class/subclasses found. Lastly, you can
    always reach for the three separate printed guides that lead you from
    section to subclass.

    The result should be a collection of class/subclasses that may interest

    With this information, you can now browse all the patents in the
    class/subclass. This process will help you locate all the patents that
    may interest you since patent classification is more reliable than free
    text search. (Note, both British and American spelling appears in
    patent databases.) This also allows you to quickly review the patents
    in other countries.

    If you are undertaking a novelty search - is a patent sufficiently
    unique from other existing patents - then you must review more than one
    country. There can be a significant delay before patent applications
    reach other countries without affecting the protection. Case in point:
    Australia only accounts for 7% of the world's patents.

    Further Search Strategy
    Patent search strategy is further discussed in the Introductory Manual
    to the International Patent Classification (IPC) found on the WIPO
    website. You may also wish to reach "Searching for Patents"
    ( from the
    University of Michigan, and "Patents" by Simon Fraser University
    Libraries (

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Trademark law is designed to protect consumers from confusion. The law
    can work to protect business investment in brands & slogans, but only
    if the business behaves in particular ways which protect consumers from
    confusion: actively using the trademark, working to restrict the
    trademark from becoming generic, routinely searching for unauthorized
    use. For a very clear description of trademark use, and the
    responsibilities of trademark owners, read the short webpages A Guide
    to Proper Trademark Use, and How are Marks Protected both by Gregory

    Trademark Law has implications for searching: Just because a
    potentially conflicting trademark has been found does not mean it
    should concern you. It may be simple to show or argue that trademark
    ownership has lapsed and become abandoned unintentionally.

    A common law search involves searching records other than the federal
    register and pending application records. It may involve checking phone
    directories, yellow pages, industrial directories, state trademark
    registers, among others, in an effort to determine if a particular mark
    is used by others when they have not filed for a federal trademark

    The system may appear particularly legalistic, and it is. Recent
    Australian Trade Marks Office Decisions
    information ultimately supplied by IP Australia, displays this vividly.
    However, much trademark activity is self-evident. In Australia, A$350
    and a minimum of seven and a half months will usually earn you a
    registered trademark. Should you choose a trademark and find another
    has used it, you will most likely receive a 'cease & desist' letter and
    forfeit the value you may have invested in the trademark.

    This leads us to the importance of commercial trademark databases,
    watching services and other commercial services. Searching both
    prevents investment in an unusable trademark and inadvertent
    infringement by others - a responsibility of trademark owners.

    Trademark Classification
    A concise list of the 42 classes of the International Trademark
    Classification codes courtesy of Master-McNeil Inc. WIPO is in charge
    of the full class description, currently The 7th edition of the Nice
    Classification, but this is rather lengthy. IP Australia has a simple
    search feature of classification terminology.

    Trademarks are assigned to a particular class of product or service. A
    slogan or mark, for example, could be registered for use in movies but
    not computer products. The situation has changes recently but let us
    explain the difference down the page a bit.

    Originally, all goods and services were broken down into 42 classes.
    These classes are international divisions organized by WIPO (World
    Intellectual Property Organization), so are the same from country to
    country. Registered trademark documents will explain at length the
    types of products & services covered by a particular trademark.

    There is some bleeding between categories, and trademark examiners are
    unlikely to grant requests for nearly identical trademarks in similar
    categories, but class plays a role in granting trademarks.

    Recently it became necessary to list specifically the products or
    services to be covered, and the 42 classes have been expanded to a
    collection of specific sub-classes, which is reminiscent of patent
    classification, but far less useful.

    Class is important as trademarks are class-specific. You can search by
    class in certain registered trademark databases, but this is not
    particularly a good search technique: you are far too likely to miss a
    comparable trademark.

    Trademark Picture Descriptors
    Search Image Descriptors, by IP Australia, here abbreviated, needs
    basic words - simple like bird or butterfly.

    One difficulty with trademark searches is that all the tools apply best
    to words which appear in trademarks. What of the picture? The solution
    appears to be image descriptors. I am uncertain of the international
    nature of image descriptors, but at least in Australia, there is a
    standard set of image descriptors. IP Australia allows you to search
    for other trademarks with a particular picture element - irrespective
    of the words involved. But to do this, you must first select the
    appropriate image descriptor.

    Trademarks are just one element of intellectual property rights;
    patents, copyright, industrial design rights, circuit layout rights and
    plant breeders rights. As certain registered trademark databases are
    free online, some trademark research can be accomplished quite simply
    by the novice.

    Why search?
    1_ To find existing trademarks similar to one you plan to register.
    2_ To find existing trademarks similar to one you plan to use as a
    3_ To see if a trademark is similar to a business name you consider
    4_ To search for possible infringing trademarks.

    This is further explained in this help file by IP Australia.

    Further Assistance has a lively usenet discussion on Intellectual
    Property. Access the newsgroup directly:  or search
    the past discussion through's usenet archive).

    For a lively discussion of how trademark law affects internet domain
    names, consider the trademarks-l mailing list at Washburn University
    (read the Scout Report description

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Industry Classification
    Lastly, we have not yet researched the categorization of industries
    using standard SIC or NAICS codes. In simple terms though, all
    industries are given a specific code. Sub-industry is given a more
    specific code. More and more specific codes refer to the production of
    more and more specific items. Of course, some companies will be
    involved in a collection of industries.

    Two competing standards, the SIC and NAICS, have different codes but
    the same coding system. Each code system can be mapped on the other, so
    will cause you no undue concern. Trade statistics, digital business
    directories, and national statistical bureau industry data will all use
    the industry codes.

                           Information Quality.
                                 Section 8

    Information has value. It also has other qualities that will assist you
    to judge information you may consider buying.

    Accuracy: the factual nature of the information presented. If the
    statistics purport to show a particular trend - how large is the margin
    of error? How large is the sample size? How likely are there to have
    been factual errors in their development? The measurement of
    statistical error is now a refined science in some fields. A
    statistical result can be inaccurate when the sample size is too small,
    if the margin of error is too large, the sample collection procedure
    incorrect, or a number of other situations.

    Reliability: the support for trusting the solutions, both from
    additional resources and from being able to duplicate the conclusions.
    This includes the reputation of the researchers. No matter how
    inaccurate and biased you may believe certain facts to be, successful
    independent support of a suggested fact does improve its value.

    Bias: conscious or subconscious influences that affect information.
    Bias can occur in collection, preparation and presentation of
    information. Most information you find will be tainted. Secondary
    information is deeply affected. Statistics are not necessarily less

    We counter bias in several ways. Firstly, we try to be aware of bias.
    Where is bias likely? Which direction would the bias affect the
    information? Secondly, we try to collect information with different
    bias. This is why research based solely on government research, no
    matter how accurate and reliable, is less valuable. Often information
    from different countries can counter bias. Thirdly, we need to accept
    bias is likely to exist. This is why primary sources are often more
    valuable than secondary sources. This is why tertiary sources, like
    experts, can rarely stand alone.

    Age: The date information was created or compiled will feature
    prominently in the value of information. Dates given sometimes mean the
    date information was created, or the date information was compiled. How
    old is a book compiled in 1995, which took the author 10 years to
    finish? I find statistics often forecast information, prominently
    displaying recent compilation dates but still use old census data or
    the like to draw their conclusions. Information on the internet
    typically has no date, and can be severely challenged because of this.

    Purpose: purpose merits further discussion. When you are uncertain
    about potential bias, you can look for reasons to distrust the
    information instead. Suspicion is not equivalent to bias, but it can be
    thought provoking. Privately, I have heard repeated rumours important
    national statistics have been fudged in different countries. A
    government research report investigating the price of books in
    Australia would have a political purpose, a purpose that provides the
    climate for some potentially significant bias. A tell-all book by
    industry experts often includes a tremendous quality of insider
    experience difficult to find elsewhere. While there may be a purpose of
    self-aggrandizement, the purpose is less a climate for significant
    bias. Medical research has perhaps the greatest climate for significant
    bias, and this suggests the greatest standard of proof and external,
    reliable support.

    Accuracy, reliability, bias, age and purpose are very important in
    research. This is what leads us to an appraisal of value. For years,
    the tobacco industry funded 'independent' research finding smoking
    minimally harmful to health. It is now likely there may have been
    errors brought on by accuracy, and bias. Certainly, purpose was in
    doubt. As new studies show smoking is harmful, we can also say the
    original research lacked reliability. In some topics, like the
    internet, research is perpetually suspect because it also ages so

    I have seen further discussions that add 'Coverage' and 'Authority' to
    this checklist. Both have bearing on the value of the information
    contained. By coverage, we mean how much detail is invested in covering
    a specific topic. Sparse or shallow coverage is closely tied to missing
    critical aspects of information. News stories frequently have limited

    Once you are acclimatized to these elements, you begin to see potential
    for error in a whole range of information. Real-estate association
    figures, expert opinions, Toothpaste advertisements and National GDP
    figures all occasionally display some degree of warping and
    manipulation, clouding the truth. The solution is awareness, comparison
    and careful analysis. As a personal aside, this is part of the reason
    for my personal dislike for market research: it is often taken far more
    seriously than warranted and mean far less than suggested.
                    This document continues as Part 6/6
    Copyright (c) 1998-2001 by David Novak, all rights reserved. This FAQ
    may be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, website, or BBS
    as long as it is posted unaltered in its entirety including this
    copyright statement. This FAQ may not be included in commercial
    collections or compilations without express permission from the author.
    Please send permission requests to

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