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One of the strengths of Inspec is the presence of both controlled vocabulary and uncontrolled vocabulary fields. When searching, the user should first look up the available Inspec Thesaurus, either from Inspec directly in xml form (for a fee), or from the search platform used to access Inspec. The searcher can then search or browse for a controlled thesaurus term that is of interest to see if that term is present and thus searchable in the file’s Controlled Index field. If the term is not available, the term may be searched for in the Uncontrolled Index field, or a similar term may be suggested by the Thesaurus. The Inspec Thesaurus has additional functionality related to searching for controlled vocabulary, in that it allows the user to see branching related, wider, narrower, and alternative terms based on the term looked up by the user. Graphical interfaces based on the xml data of the Thesaurus are available in non-patent literature search tools such as Engineering Village. The ability to click on “related terms” in Engineering Village to bring up additional related terms makes using the Thesaurus intuitive and fast, and is an additional benefit on top of all of the related entry information. In DialogClassic Web, DialogLink 5, Dialog Classic, and DialogWeb, Inspec Thesaurus access is available via the command line interface. This method of access gives the user all of the information such as related terms, classes, and dates entered (information that is available in every version of the Inspec Thesaurus, including Engineering Village for example). These terms can be expanded to search related terms as well. This is done in a command line interface which may not be friendly to those who are inexperienced in this style of searching. Similarly, STN works in a command line interface that, while displaying all of the information pertinent to each Thesaurus term, is not simple to use.
A combination of controlled and uncontrolled term searching is a good supplement and alternative to catchall keyword searching of the files. Searching in the controlled and/or uncontrolled index fields will filter out extraneous records that happen to mention the words in the abstract or title, yet are not about that subject. For instance, the word “plate,” when used in a controlled vocabulary field, may attract references dealing with plate tectonics, and exclude plate structures for mechanical devices (which may in turn be retrieved by their own controlled term, such as “plate-mechanical”). In other words, the controlled vocabulary terms relating to the two different subject areas are clearly presented in the thesaurus, and can be used to avoid false hits. The downside of using controlled indexes is that the user is then relying on an intermediary to correctly and intelligently interpret the author’s original work. Sometimes aspects of an original work may unknowingly be passed over. For this reason, it is a good strategy to perform both keyword and controlled and uncontrolled index searching in Inspec, to cover a wider range of hits.
A related search strategy is to utilize the Astronomical, Chemical, and Numerical Index fields. These fields can be thought as very specific controlled indexes. Astronomical indexing uses accepted conventions for identifying coordinates and objects in space, and can help searchers pinpoint relevant hits. Chemical indexing provides standardized ways for searchers to find important chemical structures and chemicals in specific roles within the document. One thing to be aware of is that upper and lowercase letters are not differentiated within the file, so context must be used by the searcher to determine whether a hit is coming back with Co (cobalt) or CO (carbon monoxide). Another note is that organic chemistry is not included in the chemical indexing, but is sometimes included in the uncontrolled index field. Numerical indexing is not as consistently applied as the other types of indexing, but can sometimes quickly help find a record with a certain numerical measurement or unit, if the searcher combines this field with keyword searching.
Using classifications in Inspec is a good way to limit search strings that are built on keyword or index searching. The classifications are too broad to find specific references while browsing, but narrow enough to be helpful when trying to pare down a set of search results. Browsing the classifications may also result in a way to refresh a searcher’s knowledge in a certain subject matter, and classifications are well organized. Likewise, the Treatment field can be used as a final measure to pare down unwanted results, but is not a good searching strategy to use by itself or even with another broad limiting factor such as classification.
Search operators and truncation functions are always of use in molding a search string to find a wider or narrower band of hits. Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT can be used with any search system that has Inspec and can be used in the usual ways to include and exclude results. Proximity operators are present for systems like Engineering Village, the Dialog series of systems that have command line functionality, and STN among others. These allow the user to find terms in context of other terms. One thing for users to check is what kind of proximity operators are supported (and in what combination) with other operators. In Engineering Village, proximity operators are available for searching near another term within a certain number of terms but can only be used with truncation operators if both terms are stemmed. Dialog’s command line interface also allows proximity operators to be used with truncation operators. Truncation is another variable of search systems that can access Inspec. For example, Engineering Village allows unlimited left truncation, which can be helpful to search a common root and suffix combination without specifying the prefix. By comparison, Dialog command line interface offers limited left truncation. Most search systems allow limited and unlimited right truncation. SLART, or simultaneous left and right truncation, is a perk available to the user in STN, but is only available to search the title field. Engineering Village has a useful truncation feature that allows unlimited internal truncation. This is helpful where a term may have an f or a ph inside the word such as sulfur/sulphur. Users of ProQuest Dialog can utilize left, right, and internal truncation simultaneously. In sum, the user should always confirm which operators and truncation features are available to them in each search system, and additionally confirm where these operators and truncations can be used, since some of them are limited to a small number of fields that they can be used in.