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Subject: Information Research FAQ v.4.6 (Part 5/6)
This article was archived around: 06 Apr 2002 06:54:11 GMT
Last-modified: Feb 2001
Copyright: (c) 2001 David Novak
Maintainer: David Novak <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Information Research FAQ (Part 5/6)
100 pages of search techniques, tactics and theory
by David Novak of the Spire Project (SpireProject.com)
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
http://spireproject.com/faq.txt and http://spireproject.co.uk/faq.txt
and with pictures at http://spireproject.com/faq.htm
*** The Spire Project also delivers a 3 hour public seminar
*** Beyond Boolean: exceptional internet research. This is a
*** fast paced demonstration supported with webbing, reaching
*** the ground covered on our website and FAQs. Please visit
*** http://SpireProject.com/seminar.htm for synopsis and
*** Register you interest and we will try to come to your city.
David Novak - email@example.com
The Spire Project : SpireProject.com and SpireProject.co.uk
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
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
(http://www.mindspring.com/~bgrigsby/wingrep.html) for searching many
files on your computer hard drive. (Alternatively, consider AgentRansack
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
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.
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.
Are you really interested in information more than 15 years old? Library
catalogues frequently have many aging books, and date limiting is very
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
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.
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
(http://www.calstatela.edu/library/guides/Dclass.htm) 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
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  by
David Suzuki, at my State Library. As you can see down the bottom, it is
indexed under Social Ecology  and Human Ecology .
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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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
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
- 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
3_ Paging manually through the relevant official gazette (the US gazette
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
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
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"
(http://www.ummu.umich.edu/library/PTO/newpatsearch.html) from the
University of Michigan, and "Patents" by Simon Fraser University
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.
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
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
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
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.
Misc.int-property has a lively usenet discussion on Intellectual
Property. Access the newsgroup directly: misc.int-property or search
the past discussion through Deja.com'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
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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 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
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 biased.
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 quickly.
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
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Please send permission requests to firstname.lastname@example.org