Indexing and Abstracting: The Process

Developing an index and abstract for a journal article is a necessary step in the process that ultimately leads to a user’s discovery of information. I was expecting to have trouble identifying descriptor terms and writing an abstract for the Dania Bilal article, “Perspectives on children’s navigation of the World Wide Web: Does the type of search task make a difference?” I started out by reading the article, paragraph-by-paragraph, and making notes on the concepts that were mentioned. Cleveland & Cleveland (2001) write: “As an indexer reviews a document she makes decisions about inclusion and exclusion. These are value judgments based on user needs and indexing policy” (100). At times, I found it difficult to stick to what the article was about and what users would draw upon in the article when they found it. I had to remind myself that I was not necessarily reading the article to find out more on the subject, but so that I could appropriately index the article for others to find.

Next, I looked over my list and used the ERIC thesaurus to look up the concepts. I used the scope notes, related terms, and narrower terms to help me identify the best terms to use for the major and minor descriptors. In terms of identifiers, I picked out the name of the author, the place where the research was done, and the name of the search engine used in the research (Dania Bilal, East Tennessee, and Yahooligans! respectively). I found these three names stood out the most in the article and would (or could) likely be used to locate the article.

A descriptor is defined as “an index term chosen as the preferred representation for the aboutness of a topic in a document” (Cleveland & Cleveland, 2001, 254). Descriptors can be major or minor. Major descriptors are what the entire article is about, while minor descriptors are concepts that appear in the article, but they are not as prominent or essential to the article as a whole (as discussed in Ali Shiri’s class September 17, 2009). I initially focused on what my major descriptors would be. In regards to the indexing terms, I selected the descriptor middle school students because the study focused on grade 7 science students. I was quite surprised, actually, to find that the term was in the ERIC thesaurus. I used online searching because the students were using an online search engine to look for information on particular subjects. Because of the nature of the study, I decided that the way the students were going about seeking the information was also important to the study so I selected search strategies in place of information-seeking behaviour.

Information needs described each of the tasks that the students were asked to complete. Rather than using indexing terms for the more specific tasks, information needs encompasses what each of the tasks entailed. I selected search engines as another descriptor because the entire study was based on how students could find information using a particular search engine. User needs (information) was my final selection for the list of major descriptors. Based on the study, students were to complete an activity involving them finding information on a particular topic or one of their choice. These topics led to the students having an information need, hence the indexing term user needs (information).

As I determined what the minor descriptors would be for the article, I swayed back and forth between whether they actually should be minor or if they should be turned into major descriptors. At last, I finally decided on qualitative research, statistical analysis, information literacy, and emotional experience. I chose qualitative research and statistical analysis because these were the methodologies used in the study. Information literacy is relevant to the study because students have to approach the searching process and find appropriate information to the task assigned in an effective and efficient manner. Information literacy helps students to accomplish an information seeking task quickly and effectively. The article mentions that the study also looked at the students affective experiences, which is why I opted to include emotional experiences in my list of minor descriptors.

In order to write the abstract, I took into consideration, the points discussed in class. An informative abstract is defined as

Cleveland & Cleveland (2001) offer a much simpler definition of the term: “an abstract that gives key data and procedures from the paper” (256). Based on these ideas, I looked specifically at the scope of the study, the methods used to conduct the research, the population involved in the study, the results, as well as the conclusions that were drawn from the study. I tried to include all of these things and describe the article as concisely and clearly as possible.

When I looked over the indexing terms that the ERIC database assigned to the same article, I was a little surprised at some of the terms used. I did not consider computer-assisted instruction to be a major descriptor, simply because it was mentioned as more of a result of the study. If anything, I would have included this descriptor in the list of minor descriptors. I can see how information seeking would work as a major descriptor, however, I considered it too broad, and so I used information needs instead. I understand why the indexer used navigation (information systems), but again, I used a descriptor that was more specific: search engines.

The minor descriptors used by the indexer make sense to me, but I used search engines as a major descriptor since I considered it a major concept in the study. The indexing term problems seems a bit too ambiguous to use. I do not think that this descriptor is specific enough. I wish that I would have used research skills and/or student research as minor descriptors, as the ERIC indexer did.

In some ways, I consider the terms that I chose to assign to the article to be better than those of the ERIC database indexer. While the individual who indexed the document in the database is a professional and I am a novice at indexing, I feel that I selected the most specific terms that I could that represented the concepts I identified in the article. On the other hand, I can see that I was possibly a bit too specific with some of the terms, such as user needs (information). I think that balancing the specificity and recall of a document will be the most challenging for me.

The terms selected to be identifiers by the indexer did not make any sense to me at all. In class, it was discussed that identifiers would be anything that would help to identify the article, such as the name of researchers mentioned, the place where the study took place, any associations and/or organizations the author is affiliated with, and other relevant information. I see the identifier terms the indexer used as more major or minor descriptors, as they describe the content of the study.

The abstract by the ERIC indexer and the abstract found in the journal are both much shorter than the abstract that I wrote. I found this interesting because a standard informative abstract contains approximately 150-250 words. The ERIC abstract was even more brief, simply stating that the article discusses issues and then follows the statement with a couple of examples. The abstract written for the journal seems to be better because it describes the scope, methodology, results, and conclusions of the study. The abstract written for the ERIC database is more of a summary, in my opinion.

When I compare the abstract that I wrote to the journal’s abstract, I see some similarities and differences. I find that I was more detailed with how the results were obtained in the study and I focused a lot on the actual results. I think that although the abstract I wrote was more detailed, it would reveal a lot of significant information to the user. The journal’s abstract is more general when it comes to discussing the results. I can recognize that my abstract could use more polishing and it could be revised to become more concise (even though I thought that I was quite concise initially). If I could go back and alter the abstract that I wrote, I would focus less on the results and perhaps provide a little more information on the implications and/or conclusions of the study.

Overall, I think that I did not too badly with the indexing and abstracting of Dania Bilal’s article; however, I realize that I need much more practice. I need to remember that an indexing term that is very specific is not necessarily useful to the user because he or she may not think of using that term. In terms of the abstract, I need to really refine my writing to make it much more concise. I also need to remember that a more balanced abstract with less focus on one particular area will benefit the user much more.