Beale, Sophie, et al. “Choosing and using methodological search filters: searchers’ views.” Health Information and Libraries Journal 2014, 1-15.
This article describes a study which looked at researchers’ use of search filters (aka hedges or optimal search strategies). Filters are combinations of free text and controlled vocabulary search terms that help researchers scour bibliographic databases more quickly and efficiently. The study was designed to understand how filters are used by researchers, why they choose what filters they do, and what information they would like to have to inform their filter choices. The authors used three strategies to discover this information. The first was a thorough review of the literature on the topic. Next were 16 in-person interviews with researchers at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). From these two methods the researchers extrapolated information for questionnaires sent out on a variety of listservs, yielding 90 responses. All responses came from experienced researchers, about 3/4 of whom developed new searches at least once a week. The interviews revealed that researchers use filters primarily to look for a particular study type, to find economic evidence, to limit numbers of results, or to search for small projects with limited resources. Of the questionnaire respondents, 94.4% had used filters at some point, 3/4 having used them for extensive searches to inform guidelines or create systematic reviews. Researchers surveyed and interviewed used a wide variety of methods to learn about and keep up-to-date on filters. Overall, the results of the study found that search filters are used mostly for large-scale reviews, especially to reduce large result sets or help with searches focused on a single study type. The researchers studied find out about filters through many different methods, and would like filter information (such as how to use them and their ratings) to be made more readily available and less technical.
The study would have benefited from some interviews with non-NICE (mean?) researchers. On the good side, the article was informative and easy to understand, thoroughly explaining the results of the research.