KWIC and dirty? Human cognition and the claims of full-text searching [1]

Jeffrey Garrett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Over the last several years, full-text searching of large text corpora has placed an extraordinarily powerful tool in the hands of humanities students and scholars. Use of these corpora is now entering mainstream research and, not surprisingly, is affecting research methods and the nature and quality of research outcomes. To what extent does the availability of new and copious sources of full text-along with the tools to mine them-relieve mental economy, freeing individuals from committing to memory not only names and facts but complex thoughts? Are we finally proceeding from a traditional (and obsolete?) "just in case" paradigm to a long-overdue "just in time" model for learning and scholarship? Using evidence from the literary record and from current research in human cognition, the author points to certain disjunctions between the machine processes that enable full-text searching and the subtle cognitive processes that underlie human learning and reasoning. Like all powerful tools, full-text searching requires circumspect use-and in no way relieves humanists and other researchers of the need to read extensively and think deeply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Electronic Publishing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems


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