How do search systems impact systematic searching? A qualitative study




systematic reviews, user experience, thematic analysis, qualitative research, usability, expert searching, librarians, information retrieval, bibliographic databases, search engine


Objective: Systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis projects require systematic search methods. Search systems require several essential attributes to support systematic searching; however, many systems used in evidence synthesis fail to meet one or more of these requirements. I undertook a qualitative study to examine the effects of these limitations on systematic searching and how searchers select information sources for evidence synthesis projects.

Methods: Qualitative data were collected from interviews with twelve systematic searchers. Data were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Results: I used thematic analysis to identify two key themes relating to search systems: systems shape search processes, and systematic searching occurs within the information market. Many systems required for systematic reviews, in particular sources of unpublished studies, are not designed for systematic searching. Participants described various workarounds for the limitations they encounter in these systems. Economic factors influence searchers’ selection of sources to search, as well as the degree to which vendors prioritize these users.

Conclusion: Interviews with systematic searchers suggest priorities for improving search systems, and barriers to improvement that must be overcome. Vendors must understand the unique requirements of systematic searching and recognize systematic searchers as a distinct group of users. Better interfaces and improved functionality will result in more efficient evidence synthesis.


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Original Investigation