A new search interface for The Cochrane Library

  • By: Ruth Foxlee & David Tovey
  • On: February 05, 2013, 14:23
thumbnail image: A new search interface for The Cochrane Library

On 14 September last year regular users of The Cochrane Library discovered that the search interface they had become accustomed to over the past eight years had radically changed. A subsequent launch on 15 December saw another round of important changes. Over a period of 16 months the Cochrane Search Testing Group has been working with colleagues at Wiley to develop these new search features. The project began as a problem-solving exercise. We knew that some users had experienced difficulties with the old search platform. In the course of addressing these issues it became clear that we needed to build a new, more robust and flexible search interface. This opened up the possibility of more fundamental change and an opportunity to address issues the issues identified by our users and stakeholders. These included the lack of term-specific guidance for users (i.e. autocomplete, or a 'Did you mean' function) and the comparative inflexibility of complex search features.

The new interface represents a concerted effort on the part of the Cochrane Collaboration and our publishing partner Wiley to meet the needs of users and to incorporate some of the best features in the marketplace. The Cochrane Library is available via other platforms, and while we want people to access the evidence we have prepared via whatever means they can, we also want to make our site as easy as possible for them to use our site. The Cochrane Library on the Wiley platform now includes many new features that have the potential to enhance the user experience substantially. In addition, by drawing people to the Wiley platform we increase the chances of them discovering other Cochrane Reviews, and the additional content such as editorials, special collections, Journal Club resources, and podcasts.

In redesigning the search interface we took into account the needs of novice or casual users and those of highly skilled researchers and information specialists. We've implemented an auto-suggest feature for quick and MeSH Searches and a predictive text ('Did you mean?') feature for quick searches. A redesigned search page allows users to view the search phrase and the results on one page and then filter those results on the same page. Tool tips, help tips, and error messaging have been improved and refined across all screens, with a hover-over feature available on many buttons and links.

For those undertaking complex searches we've redesigned the MeSH display and allowed direct keying of MeSH terms and qualifiers. We've also added new search editing features, such as the ability to insert lines and add one search to another, and we’ve introduced orphan line detection. Users can now combine search lines using shorthand notation, set or remove an alert on a saved search strategy, and easily share search strategies via email. We're particularly excited about orphan line detection and easy search sharing, features not commonly found on other database platforms. An orphan line (one that has not been combined in any other line) can indicate an error in the construction of a search string so being alerted to their existence is a useful tool for anyone constructing long, complex strings. The search sharing feature allows a searcher to run and save a search and then send the saved search strategy to another user via email. The recipient simply clicks on a link and the search loads in The Cochrane Library, where it can be saved and edited. Sharing search strategies is a challenge on many proprietary database platforms so we are very pleased to have introduced this new, user-friendly feature.

Introducing innovative features is not without its challenges. The interface was initially unfamiliar to users and had some teething problems, but the majority of these have been resolved, and we're confident that the new search interface provides a better all-round service. Wiley is providing training materials, and will conduct face-to-face training whenever possible. The project exemplifies the importance of partnership working with our publishing colleagues, and also of ensuring that the expertise that is held within the Collaboration is fully exploited within an inclusive development programme. The new interface represents the first major initiative in a wider programme of development, which will include: redesigning the article-level display; publishing reviews 'when ready’; making the most of our content through better data linking; maximising the impact of our translated content; and developing new content types and derivative products such as Cochrane Clinical Answers.

Ruth Foxlee1, David Tovey2

1Ruth Foxlee (rfoxlee@cochrane.org), Information Specialist, Cochrane Editorial Unit, London, UK; 2David Tovey (dtovey@cochrane.org), Editor in Chief, The Cochrane Library, Cochrane Editorial Unit, London, UK.

How to cite: Foxlee R, Tovey D. A new search interface for The Cochrane Library [editorial]. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013 Feb 14;2:ED000052. DOI:10.1002/14651858.ED000052

Competing interests: The authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf (available upon request) and declare: (1) no receipt of payment or support in kind for any aspect of the article; (2) that RF is employed by The Cochrane Collaboration and by the Cochrane Wounds Group, and that DT is employed by The Cochrane Collaboration as Editor in Chief of The Cochrane Library, but no other financial relationships with any entities that have an interest related to the submitted work; (3) that the authors/spouses/children have no financial relationships with entities that have an interest in the content of the article; and (4) that there are no other relationships or activities that could be perceived as having influenced, or giving the appearance of potentially influencing, what was written in the submitted work.

Contact: The Editor in Chief, Dr David Tovey (dtovey@cochrane.org). Feedback on this editorial and proposals for future editorials are welcome.


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