The Linguist

The Linguist 52,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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TRANSLATORS' WEB © ALPHASPIRIT | DREAMSTIME.COM Coping with web blindness Vanessa Enríquez Raído on how to get the most out of online searches or more than a decade, search engine use has been one of the most popular online activities in the United States, rivalled only by email as an internet pursuit, according to the Pew Research Center. Moreover, online Americans – and, it is fair to assume, other netizens besides – claim to be more satisfied than ever with search engine performance and feel confident in their own search abilities, although many 'report having experienced the downside of search'.1 F The demographic effects on users' perceptions of their own search abilities and experiences with search engines are, of course, not to be underestimated. Educational background, gender, age and level of income play a major role in our experiences with search. Adults with the lowest level of income, for instance, primarily reported positive search experiences, whereas 'college educated search engine users' were more likely to report having both positive and negative experiences. This may also be the case with experts in specialised domains, who are not primarily interested in recall – ie, the ability of the information retrieval (IR) system to retrieve all relevant documents (as well as a number of non-relevant ones) – but in precision, or the ability of the IR system to retrieve only relevant documents. For translators who rely on expert information from the web, understanding the 22 The Linguist Web blindness: a sense that we know there's stuff we want to find, but have no idea how to find it process of information seeking and retrieval is essential for successful search performance. This, in turn, may lead to successful translation performance. The keyword search method is generally considered to be the most powerful and comprehensive, but it appears to cause what John Battelle refers to as 'web blindness: a sense that we know there's stuff we want to find, but have no idea how to find it.'2 Searching via search engines can therefore be 'a more analytical and demanding method for locating information than browsing', as it involves several steps, including planning and formulating queries, evaluating results and refining queries. In contrast, 'browsing only requires the user to recognize promisinglooking links', according to Anne Aula.3 Making use of search features Our ability to cope with web blindness very much depends on our understanding of AUGUST/SEPTEMBER search engine features and knowledge of a given domain, as this enables us to transform questions into appropriate search queries. Correctly matching queries to web content is the single most important skill for information retrieval effectiveness. This so-called 'term mismatch problem' is compounded by synonymy and polysemy. Whereas synonymy, along with word inflections, 'may result in a failure to retrieve relevant documents, with a decrease in recall', polysemy 'may cause retrieval of erroneous or irrelevant documents, thus implying a decrease in precision.'4 Other issues that affect the precision of document ranking include the order of search terms (eg, language for special purposes vs. special purpose language); out-of-phrase terms (when a query is not treated as a single unit, eg to remove wisdom teeth surgically vs. "to remove wisdom teeth surgically" in double quote marks); secondary topic keywords (eg, statistical machine translation vs. machine translation); and non-categorical terms (eg, 'windows', which refers both to openings in a building and an operating system). To match queries to web content more effectively, searchers can use Boolean operators (ie, AND, OR and NOT) along with other search operators, such as double quotes for exact phrase searches. Most of today's commercial search engines provide their own advanced search features and

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