Preview: Additive Strategies

Keyword Substitution

Subtract, then add

NOTE: This is the fifth lesson in the Keyword Tutorial series

Keeping with the goal of reducing a query to 2-5 keywords, some searches require more than just a few "good as is" keywords to get the job done. One of the additive strategies introduced earlier is substitution: replacing keywords with better ones, usually more specific nouns. Another strategic approach involves using operators: commands that modify how keywords are used.

fluffy pancakes

Substitution is necessary when "good as is" keywords do not retrieve the desired results. For younger searchers substitution is not naturally the first search step. Searchers with good vocabularies have an advantage when it comes to coming up with alternate keywords with little effort and may engage in substitution without being aware of it. For example, if someone asked you to "look up a recipe for high-rising pancakes," are those the exact words you would use? Or maybe it would occur to you to query RECIPE FLUFFY PANCAKES, a more common way to describe pancakes that rise. There are actually quite a few adjectives to describe this type of pancake: AIRY, LIGHT, PUFFY, MILE-HIGH--what word would you use?

It may turn out that one of the words is better at returning the desired recipes--it's hard to predict without searching, which is why it's called speculative searching.

It's entirely all right to query the words you are given to start with: RECIPE HIGH-RISE PANCAKES. Doing that, here are other words that show up in the first five results: FLUFFY, MILE-HIGH, HIGH-RISE, DUTCH BABY, HIGH ALTITUDE. Except for the last one, these words are substitutes for high-rising pancakes. Two of them are proper nouns: MILE-HIGH and DUTCH BABY.

dutch baby
Dutch Baby
Compared to the other words, DUTCH BABY and MILE-HIGH are HYPONYMS, more specific terms. PANCAKE, by comparison is a HYPERNYM, a more general term.

Substitution Strategy

Adjust the focus of the search using hyponymns and hypernyms

If a query produces too many results, words that are HYPONYMS should be substituted. Since there are so many types of pancakes--as shown in the illustration below--to eliminate the flat varieties, the word PUFFY or FLUFFY or something similar needs to be added to the query. This will produce fewer overall results, although you may find recipes for fluffy pancakes that are not sweet. On the other hand, if a query produces too few results, the strategy should be to substitute a HYPERNYM, a more general alternative. So instead of searching for CREPE, a flat pancake, a better term would be PANCAKE. It gets you closer to a solution you need. Note that if you go up the HYPERNYM chain, you may not find pancakes at all, but foods like bread, cakes, muffins, etc.

pancake taxonomy
Pancake Search Strategy

Put this strategy to use in the Gem Challenge that follows. Feel free to use a search engine to check words that should be substituted.