What does relevance mean in an era of tailored search results?
While many of us have come to expect relevant search results as part of any web or app search, evaluating the relevance of search results for a college paper requires critical evaluation skills.
While a restaurant app like Yelp can give you a list of local places to eat, keep in mind that your zip code is a mediating factor in this search. Your zip code limits the results thus building relevance into the search results.
Likewise, you may see ads in Facebook or Amazon.com that seem related to your latest status update or product search. In this case the mediating factor is your FB status or a DVD you recently browsed. But, imagine if you changed one of those mediating factors. If you searched for “Sandburg” using Google in a Milwaukee zip code, the first hit will be “Carl Sandburg Hall”. If you were to do this search in Chicago, the first several results will be about Carl Sandburg’s poetry.
In academic research, popularity and location are not necessarily effective or useful ways to mediate a search. This is why we focus on selecting a set of search terms that will lead to the best results. In academic research, you will choose your vocabulary carefully to build mediating factors into your search, evaluate the results for relevance to your topic and then edit your search with new or different vocabularies as you continue searching.
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Information Literacy Tutorial by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
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