Systematic searching – practical ideas for improving results

by | Sep 28, 2020 | Reviews, Search

I have just finished reading a review copy of Systematic Searching – Practical Ideas for Improving Results from Facet Publishing. It was published in late 2019 but somehow I overlooked its release. Systematic searching emerged from the requirements of evidenced-based medicine. To quote from the book, systematic reviews of interventions require a thorough, objective and reproducible search of a range of sources to identify as many relevant studies as possible within resource limits. It is not just about brute-force searching but having the skills to know which sources to search. It also requires a high level of skill from the searcher to avoid any bias in the way in which the search is conducted and the results are presented.

This book has 16 chapters and runs to over 300 pages. Most (but not all) the authors work in the UK clinical review sector and are clearly writing from the wealth of experience they have acquired over many years of training and practice. To give the titles of just a few of the chapters, they cover

  • Choosing the right databases and search techniques
  • Social media as a source of evidence
  • Text mining for information specialists
  • Training the next generation of information specialists
  • Collaborative working  to improve searching

The authors, editors (Paul Levy and Jenny Craven at NICE)  and the Facet production team deserve great credit for achieving a uniformity of writing style and managing to avoid too much duplication between chapters. Also obvious is the passion that the writers have for their subject and for the role of systematic searching in achieving excellence in health care. There is a very good balance between discussing published research and providing insights and advice from being professional systematic searchers. There are over thirty good case studies presented in text boxes and most chapters end with suggestions for further reading and a short bibliography. In most cases there are references to 2018, which is quite an achievement in a book published in 2019. On that basis I will forgive a failure to reference the work of Peter Pirolli and Stuart Card on information foraging in their seminal paper of 1999, a topic that also missed out in a not entirely successful index.

I have nothing but praise for this book, which reminds me that search has to deliver in business-critical situations, especially where health care and medical progress are concerned. This book is all about using the technology and does not get deep into discussions about ranking models. In general these searches are being carried out on commercial systems and there is no scope to play games with the back-end code. Given the current pandemic the timing of publication is fortuitous. Even if heath care is not your core interest reading this book will raise questions about whether in general we are putting enough skills and experience to the service of our customers.

Martin White