Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Quirks of Search

Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, Lynn Hawley and Amy Warren in Richard Nelson's What Did You Expect?

Here's an interesting discovery I made the other day — at least it's interesting if you enjoy searching for things on the internet and uncovering tricks to find what you're looking for.

I wanted to see all the articles The New York Times had written about Richard Nelson's trilogy The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, so I began by using the Times site to search for "Richard Nelson" for the past 12 months, putting his name in quotes so that I wouldn't get results in which a "Richard" and a "Nelson" weren't next to each other. (They're both common names, and I didn't want any reviews of, say, Judd Nelson in a production of Richard III.)

But the only two articles relating to Richard Nelson the playwright that came up were a review of the first play in the series, Hungry, and a story about the Public Theater's 2016-17 season that mentioned the other two plays, What Did You Expect? and Women of a Certain Age. That was odd, because by this time What Did You Expect? had opened and the review should have shown up.

So I tried searching for "Richard," "Nelson" and "Gabriels" separately, no quotes involved, and this time the What Did You Expect? review came up. When I read it, I understood why. In critic Ben Brantley's first mention of Nelson's full name he writes, "the title clan of Richard Nelson's The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family has returned..." The apostrophe "s" is the problem. If you search for "Richard Nelson" (in quotes), the search engine will not give you any "Richard Nelson's."

At other points in the review the author-director is referred to by his last name, which is why the article came up when "Richard" and "Nelson" were used separately in the second search.

Still, if I hadn't known something was missing I wouldn't have done the second search, and I would have missed it. If you're searching the site for research — how many times did The New York Times mention this person or that company? — you have to look out for these quirks to get an accurate measure. One solution: Search the Times site via Google. In this case you would use the terms: "richard nelson" site:nytimes.com. You will get the complete results — whether the name is attached to an apostrophe "s" or not — without having to sift through lots of useless ones.

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