Refresher training on bibliographic databases

Help to quickly refresh your database interface knowledge

Sometimes work just gets in the way of keeping up to speed on how to search individual databases. Being busy on a long-term project that needs a different skill set can mean that…it’s been a while, and you now can’t quite remember the exact syntax or how the terms map or where the export is and that tip for not wasting time going round in a loop.

Clearly, specialist searchers don’t lose the core transferable skills of how to search, but what’s the most efficient way to get back up to speed, when an assignment demands a prompt response?
Here are my (honest) thoughts on the options:

Diving in. In the same manner as not reading the manual for a new gadget, I always think that just doing it will be most efficient – it rarely is. The chances of a poorly executed search are quite high when you can’t remember what does and doesn’t work properly in that particular interface. The alternative is that you waste time testing search lines.

Ask a friend. Much better, depending on the searching expertise within your close network. A real person is likely to be able to summarise key pitfalls and shortcuts very quickly, particularly if they work in the same organisation as you or on similar projects.

Professional instruction. One of the advantages of taking out a Dialog subscription is that you get a free 1-2-1 training session – it’s wise to prepare for this with example searches and questions in order to make the best use of the session.

Seek opportunities to help with searches (a preventative strategy). Within a busy team, there are often opportunities to help with short search tasks, which it could be tempting to dodge in favour of your existing project. It really is better though to get some practice in – six months, for example, is long enough for the forgetting curve to kick in.

Publisher’s training help. Looking for this can be inefficient (see below for some suggestions). I almost always look online first for help, particularly for truncation symbols and proximity operators.

Library guides on searching the database. These may well be aimed at students and be broad rather than specialist – but they won’t be too long and will help you get up to speed.

Here are some quick sources of help on key health databases:

Cochrane Library – the Cochrane Library Training Hub has a lot of content, which has changed in the last couple of years. Personally, I dislike instructional videos as I just want to see a written answer to my problem. There are files called Flipbooks, which are like presentations. I find them fiddly, but thankfully you can download a pdf.

PubMed – historically had an overwhelming amount of training material, and has changed interface in recent years. Which is good, as resources are now easier to use – see here. The key thing to remember is lack of proximity search operators.

EMBASE.com – a somewhat unintuitive interface, with several pitfalls, the main one being that the search screen can seem to get lost because the results screen has a very similar feel. Training is here.

TRIP Database – easy to use. Remember to go to Advanced to get access to the Title only search.

Proquest Dialog databases – are much easier to search than they were in command-line only days, and have free 1-2-1 training along with your subscription.

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