Chapter 6. Handling the Products of the Information Search
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Having found interesting references, your next task is to make good
use of them. This involves obtaining the corresponding full-text documents,
critical examination of the material, organisation of the information,
possibly in some form of personal database, and incorporation into your
personal frame of knowledge. This provides the starting-point for further
6.1 Obtaining the documents
The information search results in a list of references. First you have
to examine these critically in order to assess their relevance. A natural
starting-point is from the significant words in the title, keywords and
the abstracts of the documents. Other important indicators about the potential
value of an article can be found from the author (well-known?) and the
institutions where the work has been carried out.
Typical user requirements with regard to obtaining the original documents
The right information, at the right time and for a reasonable
It is now possible to obtain bibliographic references within a few hours,
thanks to the development of tools for information retrieval, such as computerised
bibliographic systems and CD-ROMs. The next step is to obtain full-text
copies of articles and papers corresponding to the new relevant references
that you have found and chosen. First you see if these are available at
your nearest university library. The greatly increased volume of published
information, especially within science and technology, together with decreasing
financial resources of universities, has, however, led to a situation where
academic libraries can no longer meet directly all the document needs of
their users. It is therefore far from certain that the documents you want
can be found at your university library.
Over the years interlending systems have been developed between
libraries for the acquisition of material from other libraries, in the
form of loans or copies. There are local, national and international interlending
and document supply systems. The latter make use of large document archives
and suppliers, for example:
In recent years a number of document suppliers have started to provide
a direct online ordering system, through which the customer identifies
the desired document in an online database often based on a Table of Contents
or TOCs, keys in the order request, together with method of delivery, and
credit card or account number. Examples of such services are:
BLDSC - The British Library Document Supply Centre - in Boston Spa outside
York, UK, currently hold some 160,000 periodicals of which 60,000 are current
CNRS-INIST - Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique
- at Vandoeuvre- lès-Nancy, in France.
Universitätsbibliothek und Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB),
Instituto de Información y Documentación en Ciencia y Tecnologiá,
UnCover2 - Colorado Association of Research Libraries and Blackwells
- aiming at including the contents of some 20,000 journals. This service
is available via the Internet.
INSIDE INFORMATION -British Library and EBSCO - providing details
of articles from 10,000 of the most frequently used journal titles at BLDSC.
This database is available online throughout the UK and in Scandinavia,
from BIDS - the Bath Information & Data Services.
Article Express International - a document delivery service for
scientific and technical literature provided by Engineering Information
in co-operation with DIALOG. This covers both journal articles and conference
Choice of supplier and/or method for document supply is important with
respect to three criteria:
The aim of an efficient interlending system is to provide a high satisfaction
rate, to maintain a fast document delivery service and to do this at a
satisfaction rate - as regards the documents requested
speed of document delivery
The customer now has a lot of choice with regard to document ordering.
If you want a document very quickly, direct ordering and fax delivery is
probably the quickest, but this will cost you at least 15 US$ per article.
The national interlibrary lending system tends to be cheaper but slower.
A good document delivery service will achieve a balance between the three
criteria and will at the same time be both reliable and flexible. It is
important to remember that user needs vary greatly. For instance, an engineer
or businessman who desperately needs a document might be willing to pay
a high fee in order to have the document delivered as quickly as possible,
whereas other customers might prefer to wait longer to receive a document
at a low cost. It should be noted that "low cost" is often interpreted
as "for free"!
6.2 The arrangement of a document collection
Students, researchers and engineers often collect reprints, photocopies,
notes etc. about projects. When this collection grows to a size of say
a hundred documents, it is often difficult to handle the material. When
choosing a method for the arrangement of your material it is useful to
consider the following factors:
The material can be arranged:
the volume and rate of growth of the material;
available resources - equipment, computer storage;
retrieval possibilities - author, title, subject, chronological sequence,
combination of several headings.
alphabetically under names of authors;
numerically according to accession number (accession = when acquired);
under subject headings, which can be arranged systematically or
alphabetically. The choice of a suitable systematic arrangement for subject
headings requires care and takes time. If there are relatively few documents,
and these can be conveniently grouped under a few headings, then a simple
storage system can work very well. If you are handling a larger quantity
of documents, or if you are arranging documents under accession numbers,
then you will need some kind of index or register, in order to find the
6.2.1 Manual indexing systems
Traditional commonly used manual systems
for compiling indexes of documents make use of cards, such as library
cards. For each document acquired, the bibliographic identification
elements are written, or typed, on a card. Thus, for a book the
structure would be: author's surname and forenames; title and subtitle;
place of publication; name of publisher; year of publication. Where the
item is a journal article, the structure is: author's surname and
forenames; article title; periodical title; volume number; part number;
date of publication; pages. Keywords or descriptors of the contents should
be written up. Alternatively, a short abstract or summary can be included
(you can often make use of abstracts written by the author).
6.2.2 The Computerised Personal Reference System
Today most engineers and research workers have access to a terminal or
personal computer. These can be used to store references in a personal
reference system. This involves the design and construction of a small
database system. This section will start by briefly describing what is
meant by a database, and data management systems. This will be followed
by guidelines for the structure of a bibliographic database and examples
of software for personal reference systems.
6.2.3 The database
A database is a structured integrated collection of data. The information
consists of a file of records containing a number of fields.
These allow the information to be structured in that different fields can
be used to store different types of data. Each field consists of a number
of characters. A database is thus a file consisting of records constructed
according to the same pattern. Each post is given a specific number, and
the file must be given a distinct name so that it can be handled by the
Example of a record:
When you are constructing a personal reference system, it is extremely
important to design the structure of the record in a clear and logical
way and to be sure that you have included all the fields that you might
want to search in the future. The following "pattern" would be suitable
for use for references:
AUTHOR(S)* Sullivan, John
TITLE* Economic analysis of a proposed industrial robot
SOURCE* Mechanical Engineering. Vol.45 (1993) 6, pp.118-126.
KEYWORDS Robotics, Control systems, Forging, Optimisation,
Hydraulic drive, Computer simulation
ABSTRACT The article presents a simple program, written in C+, that is capable
of quickly answering questions that arise during economic
justifications of robots. This is carried out by means of an after-tax
worth assessment of cash flow differences between the manual
operation and the robot application.
DOC.TYPE Journal Article
COMMENTS Useful review (156 refs.)
*Essential data elements in a PBS
When designing the database for your personal reference system, it is
a good idea to experiment with different record structures.
6.2.4 Storing and retrieving information
Your personal bibliographic system should allow you to carry out the following
Enter information (Write)
Read stored information
Edit or amend records
Manipulate and sort information
Append information from other files etc.
Search for specified information
Obtain output in various forms
6.2.5 Software for personal bibliographic systems
There are different types of software that can be used for personal record
systems on a personal computer: Information Retrieval programs, File
handlers and Database management systems (DBMS). It is important for
the user to choose software that is suitable for your needs. The choice
naturally depends on what you are prepared to pay. In some organisations
software is available through site-licences or on a mainframe or mini-computer.
There are a number of programs available that have been designed specifically
for handling bibliographic references. These are known as Personal Bibliographic
Software (PBS)These programs can, ideally be used to import references
from an online or CD-ROM search, for the manual input of records,
and to export references in a desired format, for example, according
to the style required by a journal. They incorporate search and retrieval
facilities for use on your own collection of references. Examples of
Note: The versions for IBM-PCs all run under MS DOS. Reference Manager
also has a Windows version.
EndNote with EndLink (available for IBM PC and Macintosh);
Papyrus (IBM only, Macintosh version under development);
Pro-Cite (available for IBM PCs and Macintosh);
Reference Manager (Available for IBM PC and Macintosh).
For the personal record system, based on any of the above software,
a number of features are important:
The advantage of using a tailor-made program for building up your own personal
file of references is that it is easy to locate items as needed. In addition,
the reference printouts can be designed to match the style of various journals,
such as Science
and Nature, so that you save a lot of re-typing
when you yourselves begin to publish! As the PBS programs become more powerful,
they are being integrated with text-processing programs, thereby providing
extremely useful research and writing tools.
The ability to search on text strings of variable length.
The possibility of using boolean operators.
The possibility for truncation.
The number of search criteria that can be used in a single statement.
6.3 Writing Abstracts
As a list of references is being compiled, it gradually becomes apparent
that some items are of central importance to a particular research field.
The writing of very brief indicative abstracts, perhaps 10 lines for each
document, will help you identify (and remember) the important features
of the article. The abstract should include:
Within that structure, there are a set of skills involved in actually extracting
the required information.
A short statement, showing the purpose for which the article was written.
A description of how the research was carried out. This might include an
analytic method, a design technique, a system concept, experimental methods,
collection of data, tests etc.
An analysis of the main results.
The conclusions, including an indication of the logic or interpretation
involved in their production.
Pointers to future research work and applications.
Useful books which include material on writing abstracts have been written
by Cremmins, 1982,Michaelson, 1986 and Day, 1988.
Read the paper over several times to obtain an overview of its contents.
Mark material for inclusion in the structure of the abstract.
Produce brief entries under a number of headings.
6.4 Writing a Review
Reviews are written for different purposes, three of these are:
There are a number of different ways in which a review can be written:
as a free-standing account of a research in a given subject field. You
might, for example, do this at the start of a project. This type of review
might contain ideas about future directions for your own work.
at the start of a project, and perhaps containing speculation on the direction
that the work might take;
as an introduction to an experimental paper.
as the introduction to a thesis.
It is a considerable advantage for the writer, and the reader, if methods
(3) or (4) are used!
The impulsive method. Here you just set pen to paper, without prior organisation.
The attractions of spontaneity are offset by faults in logic, style and
language. Time is required for revision.
The piecemeal approach. You start with a knowledge of the required shape
for the review, but the insertion of information in distinct pieces leads
to a loss of coherence and some pieces prove difficult to fit in.
The inverted pyramid. You present the conclusions first and then proceed
to assimilate a diversity of information in justifying those conclusions.
Although perhaps difficult to write, the product is easy to follow.
The systematic approach. A skeleton of the review is critically prepared
and then clothed with information. Easy to write, the product is well balanced
between its parts.
6.5 Writing References
When you yourself are writing essays, journal articles or conference papers,
it is important to write your references in a standardised and clear way,
so that oyjer people can also access and check your sources. Each type
of book, magazine, journal, newspaper etc., has a correct form but there
are many different standards. A number of "style guides" are available
in various subject areas, and there are also guides for writing Internet