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 work.

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 are:

The right information, at the right time and for a reasonable cost.
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:

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 papers.

Choice of supplier and/or method for document supply is important with respect to three criteria:

  1. satisfaction rate - as regards the documents requested
  2. speed of document delivery
  3. cost
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 low cost.

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: 
  1. alphabetically under names of authors;
  2. numerically according to accession number (accession = when acquired);
  3. 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 documents quickly.

6.2.1 Manual indexing systems

Traditional commonly used manual systems for compiling indexes of documents make use of cards, such as library catalogue 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 computer.

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


PUBL.YEAR        1996

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 functions easily:

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 PBSs are: Note: The versions for IBM-PCs all run under MS DOS. Reference Manager also has a Windows version.

For the personal record system, based on any of the above software, a number of features are important:

  1. The ability to search on text strings of variable length.
  2. The possibility of using boolean operators.
  3. The possibility for truncation.
  4. The number of search criteria that can be used in a single statement.
  5. Sorting capabilities.
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.

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. Useful books which include material on writing abstracts have been written by Cremmins, 1982,[16]Michaelson, 1986[17] and Day, 1988.[18]

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: It is a considerable advantage for the writer, and the reader, if methods (3) or (4) are used!

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 resources.