Robert M. Losee,
Comparing Boolean and Probabilistic Information Retrieval Systems across Disciplines and Queries,
Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 48(2), pp. 143-156, 1997. Text of article (in pdf)
For additional discussion of this material, see Text Retrieval and Filtering: Analytic Models of Performance


Whether using Boolean queries or ranking documents using document and term weights will result in better retrieval performance has been the subject of considerable discussion among document retrieval system and search engine users and researchers. We suggest a method that allows one to analytically compare the two approaches to retrieval and examine their relative merits. The performance of information retrieval systems may be determined either by using experimental simulation, or through the application of analytic techniques that directly estimate the retrieval performance, given values for query and database characteristics. Using these performance predicting techniques, sample performance figures are provided for queries using the Boolean and and or, as well as for probabilistic systems assuming statistical term independence or term dependence. The variation of performance across sublanguages (used in different academic disciplines) and queries is examined. The performance of models failing to meet statistical and other assumptions is examined.

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