Magazine article Information Today

Whence This Research Thing?

Magazine article Information Today

Whence This Research Thing?

Article excerpt

Barbara Quint is editor in chief of Information Today, Inc.'s Searcher: The Magazine for Database Professionals and a longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address is bquint@netcom.com.

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Was there ever a time when I couldn't research? If I reach far enough back into the distant mists of prehistory, perhaps I can recall when I first learned to do research. I know it was before library school-that's where I learned to do it smart. I know it was before college, but barely. As I recall, during my last year in high school all seniors heading for academe had to do a research paper, and I picked a light topic: "Antisemitism Throughout the Ages." That was the first time I ever saw the inside of the central library in the Los Angeles Public Library system. Lots and lots of books. Lots and lots more than I'd ever seen in one place before. It was only when I got to library school and took the insiders' tour of the same library did I realize that the books on the shelves represented just a trickle of the torrent of books lodged inside its walls- at least before the big fire proved that stacking masses of books in such a chimney-like arrangement forms a fire hazard of near-Biblical proportions.

But how did my high-school and elementary school teachers know that I was college material? Probably from the good grades I used to get on my homework assignments. And why not? I used to copy answers verbatim out of the World Book Encyclopedia. Some schoolmate once asked me whether I planned to rephrase my extracts-probably a fellow student who had reached the "P" volume. (Apparently, no one ever asked me to look up "plagiarism.") Even then, the incipient researcher within grew indignant that anyone could think that I would go so far as to threaten the purity of my research technique and imperil the absolute accuracy of my reporting by changing even a comma. No matter how tired my pen hand grew, my meticulous transcribing never faltered. looking back, either my teachers never read enough of my homework to suspect plagiarism or else the transcription process so contributed to my daily vocabulary that the work sounded as much like me as the World Book. Hmmmmm. Since the teachers were nuns and consecrated to diligence, let's suppose the latter, shall we?

But here we are in a world teetering on the brink of the Third Millennium-a world with 100 million Net users bustling about online and, according to respected predictors, with another 100 million waiting in the wings to log. on. That's a lot of research and a lot of researchers.. How ready are all the sources for the searchers? How ready the searchers for the sources?

Output-Oriented Research

Customer-oriented product design can lead to new markets. Look for the question behind the question behind the question. Start at the end. What does the customer want to do? What conditions identify the point at which the customer considers the information-seeking and -handling episode complete? What final product does this information need to accommodate? Where will this information you're selling fit into whatever the customers themselves sell like a marketing plan or a resume? Does the customer ultimately want a mailing list? A spreadsheet analysis? A word-processed memo with appropriate quotes? A Web site with lots of links? What is the shortest distance in format, price, design, etc. between your input and the customer's vision of a completed task?

Sometimes just a few relatively minor finishing touches can substantially increase a product's usefulness. For example, how many times have you wanted to send a copy of an article you see in a Web search or a single article from a full-text search to a client or colleague or friend, but found yourself stymied because the target party had no e-mail number? Less often than in the past, as e-mail becomes more and more common, but still frequently enough to make the addition of alternative routings desirable. …

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