Constructing search queries

I would like to locate a digital copy of an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review entitled “Is Decision-Based Evidence Making Necessarly Bad?”, by Peter M. Tingling and Michael J. Brydon.

My search querie is: (tingling and brydon) and ("is decision-based evidence making necessarly bad?”). I’m using a modified version of version of the Web (Deepest) search set. The modification was to add the Reference plugin with a few of the items deselected.

All I get are reports of Googlisms on the individual words in the search query. When I deselect Googlisms in the Reference plugin I get no results. I’m sure I would do better earthing Google Scholar in Safari.

What am I doing wrong, not doing?


What are your results when you don’t modify the search?

Thanks for the question. Wasn’t sure I could restore the definition to its actual original state, but I did deselect the Reference plugin. The result? Top three results were direct links to the article.

While I’m at it—and maybe I should start a new thread with this—I’m curious about the Follow Links item under the General tab in the Search Sets window. What do the options mean? And is the effect of changing the number of levels?


Christian recommends not using more than 10 query terms (not including operators such as AND, OR, etc.) because the search engines used in plugins are not happy with more than 10 terms. Your query has 13 query terms.

Try a smaller number of query terms in the top query field. I’d suggest using just the exact string “Is Decision-Based Evidence Making Necessarly Bad?” and not entering the author names.

You can add additional terms in the second query field, as many as you like to filter the search results. If, for example, there were a number of results because that exact string was common, you could then filter by adding the author names in the second query field.

Thanks, Bill. Very helpful, on all points.

How did you arrive at that, Bill?

He said the results included hits for all the terms. I took that to mean that the long phrase was ignored as a phrase, but parsed by its individual terms.

I played with several variations of searches for his target document. Keeping in mind that it is often useful to pull related pages, the most efficient and quick search I did was to use the Web search without following links, with two terms in the query: brydon AND decision.

In seconds I had a small but rich set of results including the desired page, and some reviews and critiques of it. Note that in the search setup I added PDF and .doc types to the list of pages downloaded.

That’s helpful again, Bill. Interesting that simpler searches seem to be more effective. I guess the rule of thumb would be to start simple and revise as necessary.

Not sure where that is done. On the list of locations to search and file types to look for on the Advanced tab?

OK, I tried this with a different search, this time for a NYT article on a study of the health impacts of Medicaid by Gina Kolata. I used just some of the words from the title—"benefits of providing medical insurance to poor”—and added the author’s last name in the secondary query field. I let the search run for about 30 seconds. Result? Four hits. None directly on the article itself. One linking the article on a blog site.

I ran the same search using only the primary query on Google. Result? In literally a couple seconds results appeared with the article at the top of the list.

I’ve viewed the "getting started” tutorial and the one on “constructing search queries.” I didn’t see anything obvious that would improve my effectiveness.

Further suggestions more than welcome.


Not sure that this will help, but in an earlier discussion, (can’t recall which) I was told that the search set “Web Express” is basically google.

Eric, the more unique the query term(s) entered first in the main query field, the more efficient the search request is likely to be.

I did a Web search (links not followed) using Kolata as the term in the main query field, and the exact string “medical insurance” as the second term.

That produced 5 results. DEVONagent was more efficient than a Google search in Safari, as the desired article and others highly relevant were already downloaded.

Often, less is more. Kolata is an unusual name, so making it the first query term inspected is efficient. As the reference you were looking for was a discussion related to benefits of health insurance to the poor, “health insurance” was a good choice to summarize the topic for the search.

Thanks, Bill. Maybe I’ll get the hang of this yet. Understanding how searches work, and the effect of the different settings variables, will help. I hope that comes soon.

A couple questions: [1] I noticed you used quotes instead of parentheses to get multiple terms to be treated as one. Is because no operators were being used? [2] What is the effect of electing not to follow links?


Hi, Eric. I was using operators. Putting a text string within quotation marks denotes the string as an exact string to DEVONagent (and DEVONthink).

Writing terms as a b is the same as writing them as a AND b.

Take a look at the Queries information in DEVONagent’s Help (or in the user documentation PDF).

Thanks, Bill. What does “exact string” mean?

I noticed that somewhere in the documentation/tutorials. But I also notice in settings window that “and” is being automatically converted to “or”. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. It would seem to me that it should be an option. Or that when “and” is written and not assumed it should be respected.

I’ve made limited use of help and tutorials, but will be more deliberate for a while.

Thanks again,

A search query containing the words a, b and c will treat each word separately and doesn’t pay any attention to the order in which they appear.

Placing quotation marks to enclose multiple terms is the convention to denote an exact string in the query, a phrase. So, where a, b and c stand for different words “a b c” is an exact string that will be searched for. And “a c b” is a different exact string, a different phrase.

No, your actual query is not being converted from AND to OR. That’s a different field, for a different purpose. No problem.

Thanks, Bill. Cleared up for the time being.