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The controlled versus natural indexing languages debate revisited: a perspective on information retrieval practice and research

Rowley, Jennifer (1994) The controlled versus natural indexing languages debate revisited: a perspective on information retrieval practice and research. Journal of Information Science, 20 (2). pp. 108-118. ISSN 1352-7460

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Abstract

This article revisits the debate concerning con trolled and natural indexing languages, as used in searching the databases of the online hosts, in-house information retrieval systems, online public access catalogues and databases stored on CD-ROM. The debate was first formu lated in the early days of information retrieval more than a century ago but, despite significant advances in technology, remains unresolved. The article divides the history of the debate into four eras. Era one was characterised by the introduction of controlled vocabulary. Era two focused on comparisons between different indexing languages in order to assess which was best. Era three saw a number of case studies of limited generalisability and a general recognition that the best search performance can be achieved by the parallel use of the two types of indexing languages. The emphasis in Era four has been on the development of end-user-based systems, including online public access catalogues and databases on CD-ROM. Recent developments in the use of expert systems techniques to support the representation of meaning may lead to systems which offer significant support to the user in end-user searching. In the meantime, however, information retrieval in practice involves a mixture of natural and controlled indexing languages used to search a wide variety of different kinds of databases.

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