Report:EBSCOhost/The Search Forms
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The Search Forms
EBSCOhost offers three search forms with variable degrees of utility and complexity.
The Basic Search form is the default for a first-time user of EBSCOhost. Visually similar to Google or Microsoft’s Windows Live Search, the Basic form accepts the full range of Boolean operators and complex search syntax. As the closest analogue to a command line interface, the Basic form will be the primary means of interaction for a searcher interested in maximizing control over the search parameters.
Modifications to the scope of a search are available in the “Search Options” pane accessible by clicking the link of the same name under the Basic search box. From the Search Options section, the behavior of the search box can be changed from Boolean to “Find All,” “Find Any,” or “SmartText Searching,” EBSCO’s proprietary natural language search method. Notably, the Search Options pane includes a checkbox “Also search within the full text of articles” without which searches only encompass abstracts and bibliographic data, (or titles where abstracts are unavailable). Enabling this option is necessary for comprehensive text searching over the entire database.
Also in the Search Options pane are selections for limiting the results of a search. Results can be limited to items:
- With available full text
- From specific sources
- From scholarly journals
- With publication dates in a certain month and year
- With available images (search also can be limited by type of images)
- With available references (i.e., sources that include citations, such as scholarly journals)
Finally, the Search Options section includes “Special limiters.” EBSCOhost allows the user to search as many databases simultaneously as one has access to. Each database may have specific properties that the user may want to consider in a search. To allow users to see the different options, EBSCOhost adds an additional section to the Search Options pane for each database with specialized search fields. For example, the “Special limiters for Inspec” section allows the user to include a desired country of publication, and the “Special limiters for Medline” includes boxes to specify “Human” or “Animal” research.
EBSCOhost allows searching by classification codes if the database includes them. For example, the Inspec classification “C0000” can be included in a search by preceding it with the “CC” operator. A list of available classification codes is available by clicking the “Classification Codes” link at the top of the page. Similarly, if a database has been indexed by controlled vocabulary terms, a search by that criterion can be performed by preceding the subject with the operator “SU.” A list of subject headings provided by the database is also available at the top of the page. Failing to include the appropriate operator will cause the system to conduct a general keyword search, rather than a classification or controlled term search.
EBSCO offers a thesaurus lookup feature for special classification or controlled vocabulary systems used to index the selected databases. Links to these thesauri are included at the top of every page in the system.
When browsing the classification codes or controlled vocabulary provided by a licensed database such as Inspec it is apparent that EBSCO has endeavored to maintain the structure and function of the licensed material. In the Inspec database, EBSCO presents the thesaurus data in a way that supports both its hierarchical structure and also the built-in lateral relationships between terms, i.e. the broader/narrower/related terms that are present in the source data. This design also supports similar broader/narrower term indexing present in EBSCO's own Academic Search series of databases.
As seen below, the list for Inspec displays the codes, their names, and the “Explode” and “Expand” options. Beneath the entries, the system may also display similar terms suggested by Inspec indexers. Clicking the “Explode” option will perform a search on the selected category using the “CC” operator. The “Expand” option displays the next level of detail in the hierarchical structure, e.g., expanding the A1000 category, “The physics of elementary particles and fields,” will display the subcategories A1100 through A1400. Each subcategory can also be expanded again to display an additional tier of terms.
The figure below shows further hierarchical structure in the Inspec thesaurus after a term has been expanded.
The controlled vocabulary terms included with Inspec can be browsed by clicking on the “Thesaurus” link. Databases produced internally by EBSCO such as Academic Search Research & Development also have subject terms, but in that case the terms are generated by EBSCO’s own researchers. In these two cases, the interface is the same, as seen below.
Unlike the classification code list, clicking on a term here will display information about the selected term. In the case of an internally produced list like Academic Search Research & Development, this information includes a “Scope Note,” which is a definition of the term, and links to “Broader Terms,” “ Narrower Terms,” and “Related Terms.” Finally, the page includes the “Used for” category which lists the alternative terms that redirect to the selected term.
A licensed database such as Inspec provides a different set of contextual information for subject terms, and the entries in EBSCOhost reflect that.
Finally, thesauri from databases that do not support broader term/narrower term style relationships within their thesauri, such as MEDLINE, will be displayed via an interface that supports their structure. A screenshot of the lookup feature for MeSH headings in MEDLINE is shown below.
Users should note that if either a controlled vocabulary term or a classification code is entered into a search form without the appropriate operator designating it as a subject term, it will be searched as a normal keyword.
The Advanced Search form presents a more intimidating interface than the Basic search form, but overall functionality is very similar. Essentially, the Advanced interface allows the user to construct search strings by entering the individual terms into separate boxes and choosing how they should be combined by selecting operators from a dropdown menu. Additionally, drop-down menus to the right of the text boxes offer fields for limiting the scope of the search.
The Advanced Search interface offers no functionality above that of the Basic Search form. The “Search Options” pane discussed above is identical here and a permanent part of the Advanced Search interface.
Contrary to the name, the Advanced search interface offers more assistance than the Basic interface. Any string that could be constructed in the Advanced interface with use of the drop-down menus could be constructed identically in the Basic interface with use of operators and limiters.
The final search interface offered by EBSCOhost is the unique Visual Search. Created in Adobe Flash, the goal of Visual Search is to present results graphically as an interactive “map.” The results can then be grouped, sorted or filtered with visible effect. The data can be displayed two ways: “Blocks” and “Columns.” All operator functionality available in the other two interfaces is also available here.
In Blocks view, individual results are stacked horizontally in squares next to a subject or publication heading. The heading with the longest train of blocks therefore has the most results. A “Results Map” with a small box that can be dragged to navigate results is provided in the bottom right corner of the interface. Otherwise, navigation is accomplished with a floating object called the “Control Arrows” on the left side of the screen. The Control Arrows allow horizontal and vertical movement as well as a zoom function that alters the number of results visible on the screen at a time.
Column view produces a series of blue rectangles labeled with subject or publication data, and beneath them a series of green rectangles with an individual result in each. Selecting a blue rectangle creates an additional column to the right comprised of a set of blue category rectangles populated with related categories drawn from the subject lists provided by the individual databases, and the same green result boxes filtered to reflect the selected subject. The subject terms are generated separately for each database searched: some are generated by EBSCO in the case of internally produced databases, licensed databases include their own special indexing terms. Visual Search does not discriminate between these lists or intelligently combine them by subject, thus it is possible to choose the category “AC motors” and proceed under the impression that the new result set includes everything possible in that category when in fact only the Inspec results are included, not the Academic Search Research and Development results which would have been under the subject “ELECTRIC motors”. Up to five such columns can be created, with each further filtering the results.
In both views, the result boxes have a relevancy ranking assigned by EBSCOhost’s proprietary algorithm. The rankings are indicated by a series of one to three squares in the bottom right corner of the box, with three meaning the algorithm has assigned the result maximum relevancy.
On the right side of the screen in both modes are the “Summary” and “Collect Articles” boxes. The Summary box simply shows bibliographic information and an abstract for a selected result. Result boxes can be dragged into the Collect Articles box, and from there saved to a folder.
A green bar at the top allows the results to be limited to those with full text or image availability. The “More Options” link pops up a menu identical to the Search Options pane discussed above, but minus the database-specific limiters.
A serious limitation of the Visual Search interface is the low result cap of 250. It is unknown how EBSCOhost decides which 250 results to present, but users wishing to examine as many results as possible should be aware that Visual Search is likely to only present a fraction of all but the most specific searches. Additionally, due to the comparative speed of the Flash interface, examining many results sequentially is a faster and easier process in the Basic or Advanced interfaces.