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Scientific Information Retrieval

Evaluating Results

Evaluating and assessing the search results is a vital part of the searching process. When you consider your search results, you maybe have to modify your search statements to make new searches. After conducting a search, the usefulness and relevance of the search results have to be assessed before applying the retrieved information.

When evaluating the results, make the following questions:

  • Is the document relevant to your topic? Look at the title, the descriptors and the abstract or summary to get an idea of what it is about.
  • Is the document scientific? Many databases contain both scientific and non-scientific articles, and often you can limit your search to refereed/peer reviewed articles.
  • Is the document reliable? Is there information on the author, the author affiliation and the publisher? Does the document include a list of references?
  • Is the document up-to-date? In many disciplines, a document is considered out-of-date if it is more than ten years old, but it depends on your research field and topic and the topic of the article. Some basic works can be very old, too.
  • Is the document available and what does it cost? If the document is not available at your own library, check the costs of an interlibrary loan in advance.


Evaluating Web Sites

When using web sites in research, evaluating and source criticism are important since there is no centralized control over what can be published in the Internet. The quality and reliability of internet resources vary greatly.


Improving Your Search

There are many things that can influence the success in your search. The main factors for a successful search are the right search terms for your subject, a good combination of these terms into a search phrase, and in the end also the selection of the database. An ideal search returns only relevant results, but in most cases there are also some items not related to the topic. In the worst case you get a long list of irrelevant items or even none at all.

Search technique helps you to revise and redefine your search terms, the search statement, or the database so you do not have to skim the whole list of irrelevant results, but you will get better search result with a modified search statement. The following list gives some hints for your consideration.

If you get too few results

  • Use broader terms
  • Limit your search to keywords or abstract instead of descriptors or subject terms
  • Add more related terms and synonyms combined with OR
  • Use fewer limiting terms combined with AND
  • Use truncation (* or ?)
  • Check what descriptors or subject terms the database uses
  • Check that you are using the Boolean operators correctly
  • If you find a relevant record, use its subject terms in a new search

If you get too many results

  • Use narrower terms
  • Limit your search to descriptors or subject terms or title
  • Add more limiting terms combined with AND
  • Use fewer related terms and synonyms combined with OR
  • Limit to peer reviewed (scholarly) articles
  • Check that you are using the Boolean operators correctly
  • If you find a relevant record, use its subject terms in a new search

If you get no results

  • Check your spelling
  • Check that you are searching relevant search fields
  • Check that you have truncated correctly
  • Check that you are using a relevant database
  • Check that you are using the Boolean operators correctly