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Full Text Searching in CIOS Databases


ISYS full text retrieval software, donated to the CIOS by Odyssey Development, Inc., provides a complete index to every word in every document in Comserve's large resource library: every word in every announcement, in every bibliography, in every syllabus, in every article from the Electronic Journal of Communication, in every job advertisement, etc. --- even every word exchanged over Comserve's hotline system since its inception in 1987.

The ISYS system provides a way to query this index to locate items of interest. It is rather like being able to dispatch someone to your university library with these instructions: "Read every word in every book and article and bring back a list of all the works that contain mention of ______. And while you're at it, every time ______ is mentioned make a note of the surrounding text in order to convey the sense for how the author is using the term. Please return with this information in ten minutes or less."

Imagine further that in addition to hundreds of bibliographies, instructional materials, research papers, scholarly articles, newsletters, and announcements, your campus library contained transcripts of all the formal and informal dialogue that occurred at national disciplinary conferences during the last decade and that your assistant could also quickly digest and scan all these dialogic texts with respect to your research interests. Comserve's resource library contains exactly this kind of dialogic information because all notes exchanged over the hotlines since 1987 have been saved and are subject to ISYS searches (more than 40,000 messages as of February 1996).

Hence ISYS can locate formal resources (e.g., bibliographies, book announcements, full text articles) as well as dialogic materials (e.g., all comments about television violence sent over the Masscomm hotline).

Output from a search lists the names of every file that contains the search target and the number of times the target appears within the file. This output is useful in refining a search (see "what to do if your search result is too large" below). For example, a names search for the target terms social and history might yield the following output:


       FileName                    Hits

       IAMCRNET NB044              (2 Hits)
       COMMJOBS NB010              (2 Hits)
       COMGRADS NB019              (2 Hits)
       MAGLIT1 SYLLABUS            (2 Hits)
       COMHIST SYLLABUS            (6 Hits)
       HISTORY SYLLABUS            (6 Hits)
       RHETSCI SIMONS2             (2 Hits)
       CONTFEM CAMPBELL            (5 Hits)
       GOODCOM PEARCE              (3 Hits)
       THEORY PEARCE               (2 Hits)
       SIXTIES ZAREFSKY            (4 Hits)
       RHETHIST ZAREFSKY           (3 Hits)
       RESFOUND RICE               (2 Hits)
       OPRNTSUB NEWSLTR2          (10 Hits)
       OPRNTSUB NEWSLTR6           (4 Hits)

Each line lists a file name and the number of times one of the search terms was found within that file. The files are available to individuals from CIOS supporting institutions. Individuals from institutions that do not support the CIOS can still obtain a limited number of files from the traditional Comserve system (see relevant items under the "Background and Orientational Information" selection from the main menu).

Context searches

Context searches are extremely powerful, returning every line from every document that satisfied the search as well as the preceding line and the following line. The following example contains a portion of output from a context search for "McLuhan". The flush left upper case text indicates the name of the Comserve file in which the text was found. This file name can be used to retrieve the complete original file or document from Comserve.

Note that context searches are useful for generating bibliographies since bibliographic listings are often completely expressed in three lines. Context searches are also useful for locating past discussion of a concept or topic in Comserve's hotline.

Example Output from a Context Search for "McLuhan"

      OPERSUB OCT91
      ...
      versity Professor.  Those interested in the nature of his work,
      see The Medium Is the Rear View Mirror: Understanding McLuhan,
      McGill-Queen's University Press, 1971.

      MASSCOMM NB083
      ...
      You might want to have a look at Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan
      and Walter Ong

      MASSCOMM NB084
      ...
      McLuhan, Marshall, _The Gutenberg Galaxy_, University of
      Toronto Press (1962)

      MASSCOMM NB094
      ...
      I just finished reading the biography of Marshall McLuhan
      by Marchand, and am wondering if any one has taken over
      the role of media guru since McLuhan died.

Context searches are useful for generating sources for student or faculty research projects or for quickly finding all references to a particular topic or phrase in all the documents in Comserve's resource library. Any document of interest can then be retrieved from Comserve. Context searches tend to produce large amounts of output unless the search term is carefully specified (see below).

Specifying the target of an ISYS search

A. Case

Case is ignored in a search target. A search for "decoding" also finds "DECODING", "Decoding", etc.

B. Boolean Operators

ISYS search targets are the word or phrase you wish to locate. In addition, Boolean logical terms (AND OR NOT XOR EXCEPT) can be used to further refine the search. For example, a search for

factor or eigenvalue or varimax or rotation
would find all documents that contained any of these related terms. A search for:

burke and rhetoric

would find all documents that contained both terms and a search for:

television not violence

would find all documents that contained the first term but not the second.

The XOR operator searches for documents containing either one or the other term but not both; for example:

commercial xor media

The EXCEPT operator is more specific than NOT. It works at the paragraph level, excluding from consideration paragraphs that include the second term.

C. Positional Operators

These operators take advantage of the internal structure of the document allowing you to specify the order or the terms you are searching for. The positional operators are


              ...  Meaning "followed by".  Both terms must occur
                   in the document but the first term must occur
                   before the second.  For example:

                              social ... history

              //   Meaning "near by". This locates terms within the
                   same paragraph.

                              organizational // structure

              /n/  Meaning "within n words of".  This locates terms
                   within "n" words of each other.  For example:

                              social /1/ history

                   (would find occurrences of the phrase "social
                   history" but would not find phrases such as "the
                   social and political history of Greece")

D. Wild card searches

The asterisk or star character is used to signal a wild card in an ISYS search. Thus, an ISYS search for theor* would find theory, theoretical, theoretic, etc.

E. Conflation

ISYS understands many grammatical forms and allows you to use the tilde character to locate most forms of a word. Thus a search for "post~" would find all instances of 'post', 'posted', 'posting', 'post-haste', 'postpone', etc. Be mindful that there are limits to conflation. For example, a search for "hold~" would not find "held".

F. Common words and reserved words

You cannot search for words that are Boolean operators or for common words (e.g., of, the, and is) since they are not indexed by the Isys system.

What to do if your search result is too large

A context search for an overly inclusive search target or a search for a high frequency word (e.g., "communication") may yield a gigantic result. A context search for the word "history" for example yields more than 15,000 lines of output. Comserve will suppress context search results that contain more than 400 hits.

If your result is too large, you can narrow it by applying your search to particular categories of the resource library or to particular categories of hotline notebooks. You can also narrow it by choosing a more specific search target or by creating a more exclusive target by combining terms with Boolean or positional operators (see "Specifying the target of an ISYS search" above).

Using ISYS as a research tool

Comserve's ISYS system provides an unprecedented level of access to the accumulated resources of the communication field. ISYS searches can easily generate bibliographies of materials in use in the field since these are the materials that are mentioned in hotline dialogue, included in course syllabi and recent bibliographies, etc. A global context search for "burke" for example returns a rich set of references to works by and about Kenneth Burke as well as commentary about Burke that occurred on Comserve hotlines -- including questions from those seeking information or opinion and from expert scholars. ISYS context searches allow you to see how Kenneth Burke's works are being used by others in their teaching and research as well as what people are saying about Kenneth Burke and his ideas.

Using ISYS as a classroom resource

The ISYS system can be a valuable component in undergraduate education. With ISYS it is practical to ask students researching topics in communication to see how the topic is used by communication professionals. Similarly, those reading about the works of particular communication scholars can be assigned to investigate dialogue by those scholars or about those scholars' ideas that has occurred on Comserve. In addition to traditional methods of researching television violence, for example, students can be assigned to locate and read the debate about television violence research that has occurred on Comserve's hotlines over the years involving key scholars such as Mike Shapiro, George Gerbner, and Michael Morgan. Students can easily extract commentary from the hotline notebooks by, in response to, or about particular individuals -- in many cases the authors of the books and articles they are using in class.

Long delays in the publication cycle often means that standard university library materials are years out of date. Comserve includes very recent materials and commentary and the materials are a dynamic repository that is constantly accumulating as new hotline dialogue is recorded and source files are added to the resource library.