Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why are keywords so challenging?

Sorry for the long absence. What I wanted to write about - still will - is David Aaronovitch's article from the London Times as found by my students in WR 222. But today I'm writing about keywords and why they are so baffling to students. There is a cognitive challenge here. In all our writing classes we have some information literacy activities that require research and students are surprisingly baffled in their attempts. Yesterday a student said she still had not found any scholarly articles for her essay about the benefits of marching bands (benefits to members or the the school team being cheered on). I said, let's look, opened OSU's Academic Search Premier database, typed in "marching band" and the first two articles were quite helpful. It was so easy. I wondered what key words she might have been using that she couldn't find anything.

Which brings us to our challenge for our campus-wide Information Literacy in first year comp. We are trying to design some new activities that will help teach this concept.

In EBSCO I found an interesting article -
The Effect of Search Engine Keyword Choice and Demographic Features on Internet Searching Success.
The objective of this project was to determine the effect of keyword choice and demographic features on Internet searching success through empirical research. An experiment was done with 1,109 l...
By: Weideman, Melius; Strümpfer, Corrie. Information Technology & Libraries, Jun2004, Vol. 23 Issue 2, p58-65, 8p; (AN 14078902)
which found that while younger and white students tended to be more successful with keyword searching, in fact students are still overconfident of their ability to find articles.

But here's a look at the opposite side that might just be a way to help students understand. Let's look at the other side - if you are the author, how can you help people find your essay.
Scholars typically list keywords with their article abstracts. And web designers want desperately for their sites to be found, so they work hard to make a wide range of key words work for them. Karen Thackston devotes a page to "what are keywords and what the heck do you do with them" to help web site owners/designers know how to help search engines find their page. After all Google's algorithms are based - I think - on keywords.

Lorelle's blog on WordPress also addresses the value of using keywords effectively. Her perspective, like Karen's above, is to help bloggers make their sites more easily reached. If I wanted to capture a lot of attention to this post, I need to use the words both as single "keyword" and two words "key words" because people use them both ways. Wikipedia uses the single keyword, though very minimally. In this case, while normally I eagerly refer students to Wikipedia, I don't know if their entry is helpful.

Kevin Sinclair of Cyberindian also addresses Keywords (one word) again from the perspective of the customer. What we hope to do in our activity is help students induce (not deduce) what would be effective keywords to find a particular text without the author or title - such as Swift's "Modest Proposal" so that students can then devise keywords/ key words that would effectively help them in their own research when they are not looking for a particular item.

What Anne-Marie and Dan and I talked about at the library yesterday was the interesting relationship between key words and tag clouds. Just because a word occurs often doesn't make it a keyword, and I don't mean words such as "they". A tag cloud I made of "Modest Proposal" had as one of the most common words "burden" and then "kingdom" - neither of which I would have thought of to find it. Using "burden" and "kingdom" together as search terms in Google did not retrieve "Modest Proposal" on the first two of the Google result pages. However the key words "Ireland poverty children satire" brought up an entry for Swift as the first on a Google search. It would be interesting to experiment with this.

I'm hoping that this post will attract some thinking. Wish I had a good image for this.

Maybe the real challenge is what DavidWeinberger raises: that Everything is Miscellaneous.

ps: my Blogger appears to have lost the auto spell check.


Blogger amd said...

this is not a particularly earth-shattering idea but it is an idea and i don't want to lose it before next term - could we ask them to assign keywords to their own paper - the argument paper, I mean? As part of the assignment.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Julie Colibri said...

I think assigning key words to there own paper is a good idea. I think having them do it even for free writes might help to start ingraining the notion early on.... these are keywords, this is how they work, etc...

I thinking about how I might use keywords in 214. Maybe for their biz buzz I could have them assign a few keywords, we'll see.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Sara Jameson said...

These are great ideas - and I want to add "keywords" to the standard assignment directions as well. Another project for the break. And I'll send you both my preliminary ILP on Keywords. I made tag clouds and some questions.

3:57 PM  
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8:37 PM  

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