Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Use Search Engines?

A Search engine is a tool used to search and retrieve information stored on computer systems, mostly on the Internet. To search for information, the search engine makes use of specific keywords that we type in and returns a list of documents that contain the keyword. The information can be stored within web pages, documents or databases on computer system, or we can search for these documents themselves using search engines. Some of the most popular search engines used today are Google, Yahoo!, Alta Vista, and Lycos.
Search engines help us find the right information from the comfort of our workstations and faster than any other means. For example, there are thousands of documents that we can find on the web on any particular topic, besides scientific papers, journals, and magazines. In addition, we can store and access information in digital form such as photographs, video images, computer games, and so on from the web. The Internet also has free computer software that we can access and download free of cost using search engines.
Types of Search Engines
There are various types of search engines available today. These search engines and their functions are listed in the table below:
Search Engine Type
Web search engines
Used to search information on World Wide Web (Internet)
Enterprise search engines
Used to search on intranets
Personal search engines
Used for searching the contents of a user’s computer files (Desktop search)
Mobile search engines
Is the convergance of search engines and mobile devices such as mobile phones
How Search Engines Work
A search engine provides an interface where a user can search for relevant information by providing certain criteria (keyword or phrase), for which the search engine finds the matching information. There are various steps that search engines follow to help us find the information we need. These steps are given below with their description:
The keyword or phrase that a search engine intakes for a search item is called a query. A query can be either a formal query or a non-formalized query, depending on the syntax used for querying. Formalized queries require a strict, logical, and algebraic syntax. On the other hand, non-formalized queries are less strict with the syntax.
Natural Language search is a common form of non-formalized querying where Web Search engines use natural language processing in some form or the other. For example, instead of entering just one or two words, complete sentences can be used as search criteria.
Typically with all Web search engines, the mose relevant items are placed on top of the list and the least relevant items are placed lower down the order so that the user can easily locate the most relevant item. This is called ranking.
A search may return either items that are exactly matching with the keyword or will return nothing. However, we can also search for items that more or less match the search criteria that we enter. These matching items are then sorted or ranked so that the items that match the most are placed on top of the order.

To provide fast results in case of a search, a search engine will store information in advance on a server about important items of search. This information is called metadata. For example, a search engine may determine and add the title, author’s name, or the number of pages to the description of each book, on a server in the form of an index.
As a result, users can add these details as search criteria with the description of the book, which will enable a faster search. This is because the search engine can now calculate faster the similarity between the query and the set of items stored on the server.

Different Search Options
Simple Search
To search information on a particular topic, identify key concepts related to the topic. These concepts are then used as key words for the search. For example, to find information on the mobile tariffs charged by Airtel, you can enter the keywords “Airtel Mobile Tariffs”.

Boolean Search
A Boolean search requires the use of the Boolean operators AND, OR, or NOT, or a combination of these with the keywords. This helps in getting better search results in contrast to a simple search.
1. AND
Connecting search terms with AND ensures that the search engine retrieves pages containing ALL these keywords, which will help in getting fewer but more accurate results. For example, the key term “Airtel and Mobile and Tariffs” will only return pages that contain all the three keywords.
2. OR
Connecting search terms with OR ensures that the search engine retrieves pages containing ONE, SOME or ALL the keywords. For example, the key term “Airtel or Mobile or Tariffs” will return pages that contain one, some or all the three keywords.
Note: Surround OR statements with parenthesis for better search results.
3. NOT
NOT is used to search for Web pages that contain one word but not the other. For example, Mexico Not New Mexico, will display documents that contain the word Mexico but exclude New Mexico.
4. Implied Boolean: PLUS and MINUS
In many search engines, the plus and minus sign can be used instead of Boolean AND and AND NOT respectively. For example, Alta Vista’s simple search process requires the use of the implied Boolean symbols.
Note: There is no space between the sign and the keyword.
For example, +search +process
Advanced Search
Advanced search provides more effective ways to improve search results compared to Simple and Boolean searches. Some of the advanced search methods are described below.
1. Phrase Searching
Phrase searching is a powerful search technique where a group of words is included within double quotes so that only those documents where these words appear together are listed.
2. Plural Forms
Enter the search keyword as a plural if you want to see the documents with only the plural form of the keyword listed.
3. Alternate Spellings
To see alternate spellings of a word, you can use wild card features with the keyword. For example, Gen* will return pages with words such as Genius, Generation, Gerund and so on.
4. Use of Parenthesis
To clarify relationships between search items, use parenthesis. For example,
(Delhi or NCR) and Companies, will search and display companies in Delhi and NCR.
Steps for Effective Search
For the most effective search and to get the best results, you need to follow certain basic steps. These steps are listed below with brief descriptions.
1. State clearly and briefly what you want to search for.
For example, What are the different Learning Theories?
2. Identify the keywords in the sentence.
For example, What are the different Learning Theories?
3. List synonyms, alternate spellings, and variant word forms of each keyword.
For example, different, various
4. Combine synonyms, alternate spellings, and variant word forms of each keyword.
Combine synonyms with Boolean OR, and place parenthesis around the statement.
For example, (different or various)

Combine keywords with Boolean AND. For example,
(different or various) and Learning Theories
Note: In case of alternate spellings, use the asterisk symbol to indicate different spellings within the statement.
5. Check Spellings Thoroughly
To get accurate search results, check the spellings thoroughly in the keywords. This will eliminate Web pages or documents where the spelling is not the one you intended.
Search Engines: Common Examples and Functions
The following table lists some of the commonly used search engines and their functions and features.
Search Engine Name
• To search for items using specific keywords
• To search for an exact phrase- is very adept at returning relevant results
• Has the largest database of 1.5 billion pages
• Supports Boolean and advanced searches

Yahoo Search
• To search for items using specific keywords
• To search for an exact phrase
The best option after Google
MSN (Live) Search
• To search for items using specific keywords
• To search for an exact phrase
The best option after the above two, is being improved.
Alta Vista
• Provides various powerful search features not found elsewhere
• Provides for Simple and Advanced searches
• Claims one of the largest search engine databases with over 550 million Web sites
• Offers specialty search engines like an image finder, an MP3/audio finder, a video finder, and a people finder

Hot Bot
• Has an index of about 500 million pages
• It supports implied Boolean logic, full Boolean logic, and truncation
• HotBot also offers phrase searches as well as several media-type searches such as audio, video, and images

Microsoft Encarta
Provides information and data for specific questions

Provides information and data for specific questions

Provides information and data for specific questions

Provides information and data for specific questions

Provides information and data for specific questions

Yahoo Directory
Provides overview of a subject

Google Directory
Provides overview of a subject

The Open Directory Project
Provides overview of a subject

Ask IQ
Provides top searches, movies, news, advancing searches of the week

Yahoo Buzz Index
Provides various options, mainly entertainment

Google Trends
Provides various options for search, but not too impressive

Lycos Top 50
Provides listings on various topics

How to Write a Good Dissertation?

A dissertation is a common academic requirement and serves as the main qualifying criterion for gaining a master’s degree or a PhD in several countries. Knowing how to write a good dissertation is crucial towards academic success during and after graduation. Yet, most students remain sadly unaware of the basics of writing an acceptable dissertation. Even though most universities have specific requirements and instructions related to dissertation writing, the foundations remain the same. In this document, I will try to cover the main areas that a dissertation is generally expected to address.
There are 3 main elements that any good dissertation should concentrate on – the structure, the contents and the language. Each of these is equally important and can make or break your dissertation. The following sections outline a few important points about these elements.
The overall structure of dissertations is similar across most universities irrespective of the subject you are specialising in. While certain aspects of the dissertation might be different depending upon your choice of specialisation, the following section outlines the mandatory common elements:
  1. Abstract - This is the very first portion of your paper and is written before the beginning of the actual dissertation. The aim of this section is to introduce your work to the readers. This should not be longer than 200 words and should explain the basic idea behind your research in clear, lucid sentences.
  2. Introduction - This is the first part of your actual dissertation. This should give a clear idea of what you plan to do in the coming sections and the rationale behind the subject choice. It is very important to explain the objectives and goals of your research in this section. It is also a good idea to mention how the remaining part of the dissertation is going to be structured.
  3. Literature Review - This is one of the most important parts of your dissertation. The objective of this section is to conduct a comprehensive study to understand the theory behind the subject. This study is usually conducted through secondary sources like books, journals and internet. The key towards conducting a good literature review is to begin with the objectives of the research and then set about proving them in theory. By the end of the literature review, you should be in a position to define the hypothesis for your research and build a framework for the work.
  4. Methodology - This section outlines the methods which you plan to follow to gather the data relevant for your research. Data can be gathered through primary or secondary means. Gathering data through primary means involves direct interaction with the participants through surveys, interviews, observations and so on. There are several qualitative and quantitative methods defined to accomplish this. While explaining about the type of methodology you plan to follow, you should touch upon the rationale behind choosing that particular methodology and how you plan to accomplish it.
  5. Data Analysis - Once the methodology is finalised, the actual data gathering and analysis needs to be conducted. This section is meant to give information about the data collected and its analysis. Analysis can be done manually through excels and spreadsheets or, in more complex scenarios, with the help of tools like SPSS or Nvivo. The analysis should be logical, clear and conforming to the objectives of the research.
  6. Discussion - This is the section in which you discuss the results obtained by analysing the data gathered. You should also discuss whether the data analysis has been successful in accomplishing your research goals and if there were any anomalies or deviations from the expected results.
  7. Conclusion - This is the concluding portion of your dissertation in which you discuss the learning and outcomes of your research. You should also mention any difficulties encountered by you during the research and the future research that can be carried out in this area.
  8. References - This is one of the most important aspects of the dissertation. It is very important to provide references to the sources of your information. There are several referencing styles which are accepted by universities. You should find out the style which you are expected to follow by your university and make sure you conform to it. The references need to be provided in between text (in-text reference) as well as at the end of the dissertation (bibliography). Failing to do so will count as plagiarism which is grounds for severe penalties in universities across the world.
The most important thing to remember about the content of your dissertation is that it should be logical and meaningful. Each section should follow from the previous one in a sequential manner and statements should be substantiated with data. Overall, the dissertation should work towards accomplishing the research goals defined at the beginning. It is also important not to take statements you read at face value. Any theory you quote should be followed by evidence. Also, you should aim to strike a balance between description and analysis. You should demonstrate knowledge and understanding of your chosen topic.
The language of your dissertation should be formal and written in third person as far as possible. It is important to articulate your ideas clearly and succinctly. Do not ramble or repeat points. While usage of simple sentences is permissible, it is very important to remember that the sentences should be coherent and logical. Wherever required, you should use points and numbers. Last but not the least; it is very important to make sure that your dissertation is free of grammatical errors, punctuation and spelling mistakes. Use word’s built in spell-checker to ensure your paper is free of such mistakes. It is always a good idea to have someone who has a good command over English read through your document before you submit it.

How to Write a Book Review

A book review is a critical summary of a book. It is an open forum where one analyses and forms an opinion of the writers work. This critical evaluation is not only a useful source of information for the reader, but for those who intend to read the book.
The essential step for writing a book review is to read it thoroughly and understand the contents of the book. One has to understand that it is simply not a summary but a critique. The three important steps in writing a book review are:

Step 1: Introduction

Start by mentioning the essentials like the title of the book, author’s name and relevant publishing information. You should also specify what type of literature it. For example it could be a sociological analysis, a historical book, a purely academic one or a lighter piece of work. Normally, the background about the writer is not required but one should not omit it if it’s of special relevance - for example a refugee writing on refugees. This helps to put the text in a specific context.

Step 2: Main Section – Description and Summary

The main section ideally consists of two sections – the description and the summary. The description can have excerpts from the book that give valuable insight into the work. However, while reviewing the storyline one has to make sure that the suspense of the story is not given away.

Step 3: The Critical Analysis

In this section, one has to remember not to critically analyze the entire book but take out those points which are intriguing. For example, if the book is on the urban poor, one can perhaps focus on their politics and culture. Your opinion on the book is crucial here as it shapes your analysis. It helps to provide an insight into the attributes of the book - Is it worth reading, is it interesting and so on. This section should also talk about one’s learning’s from the book and whether it holds an important or interesting message that caught your attention.