#Finding scientific information: Documenting a search

Documenting a search

A systematic information search is normally a process with many stages, and consists of several search sessions. You may have to change search terms, change search restrictors and change databases in order to reach the desired search result. In more extensive projects, it is necessary to repeat exactly the same search at regular intervals. From the point of view of the progress of the search process, and to avoid unnecessary work, it is recommended that all the stages of the search process are carefully documented to keep the search process clear. From the search information, it is worth saving at least all the search terms and search strings, databases, search restrictors, the size of the search results and the date that the search was performed. This can be done using the savable search history that is available in some databases, or by keeping a diary of your own. A repeat of a search can be done, for instance, with the help of an Alert function.


A search history

The way a search history functions varies from one database to another. In some databases, it saves only the results received during the current search session, whereas in some other databases it is possible to save the search history for later use or for search repetition using for instance the Alert function. The use of the search history in later search sessions, or the use of alerts always requires registering with the service.

In the search history, the searches are numbered. These numbers can be used to refer to searches when repeating a search, or when combining searches. Databases vary in terms of how many searches can be saved in the history. Search histories in different databases also differ in terms of what information they save; for example, the restrictors are not always saved. The functions in a search history also vary from one database to another; it is normally possible to repeat a search, to modify it or to combine it with other searches.

As an example, we have the ProQuest databases. Here, we have the ERIC database. You can access the search history by clicking on the Recent searches button. On the page, you have Actions menu with different operations for each search string: Save search, Delete search and new search results can be subscribed for e-mail by clicking the Create alert button or for the RSS reader by clicking Create RSS feed button. You can also get back and modify your search by clicking the linked search string. Quantity of references and search strings can be exported from the database in chosen format by Export all searches function. It is possible to combine searches too. Then they are referred to by their numbers and Boolean operators are used for making the combinations.
Source: ProQuest <http://search.proquest.com> 22.7.2013

Saving the search results

After a successful search, those references that seem relevant can be saved with a reference management program in a personalised reference database; they can then be easily found for further use. RefWorks, Mendeley and Endnote are examples of widely used reference management programs.


Keeping a diary where you can record all important information by hand is a useful and easy way to document your own information search. Of course, this kind of recording of search results does not allow all the functions that are available with the Search History. However, Search History facilities do not exist in all databases, in which case a diary may be a good alternative. The advantage of a diary is that you can shape a diary to be what you really want, and you can add your own comments and hints according to your own needs.