The Methodology of Search Filters

AKA Article Summary #5

As information has migrated to an online format, specifically employing the use of databases as means to store records for research purposes, tools have been developed in order to heighten searchability.  One such tool set in place to aid in research processes, are search filters, also known as “hedges”.  These filters were created and continue to be utilized with the intent to produce more specific results in a shorter period of time – essentially to increase efficiency for researchers to complete their studies.  Search filters enable researchers to establish a search strategy for their project, as well as a potential timeframe.  The authors of this specific study, set out to review how filters are being used by librarians and other researchers, and with what frequency.  This study also hoped to expose weaknesses in filters and their development, as well as, bring to light ways that they could be enhanced for better practices to be implemented within research fields.

To complete the study, surveys were sent out to staff members of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).  Beyond the questionnaires, twelve interviews were completed to obtain more in-depth insight from staff members.  The study found that since a 2004 research project – which also used surveys to account for filter awareness and usage – awareness among professional researchers, remained high, although the implementation of filters into search processes has significantly grown.  The 2014 study proved that in the ten years since Jenkins’ survey results, librarians and researchers were selecting to utilize filters in order to narrow down results, identify controlled vocabulary (such as, MeSH), to monitor trends and a variety of other reasons.  A handful of guides were also identified during the study as aids for selecting the most practical and efficient filters for the research being completed, these included: the InterTASC information specialists’ Sub-Group Search Filters Resource, the Cochrane Handbook, as well as a variety of email lists.  These resources help some researchers generate, what they perceive as, more reliable filters to develop a search strategy which will yield quality results.  Although through this study, it was found that authorship could potentially play a role in the perception of quality resources, especially in cases when seemingly reliable filters are not available or not utilized.

Ultimately, it appears that marketing and heightened awareness of search filter development, intent, and amended reasoning should be provided more transparently to users by website and search filter designers.  The more that researchers understand about available search filters, the more likely they will be able to identify those which will provide sought out results, versus those which do not serve a purpose for them.  The elimination of time wasted during the troubleshooting stage of research will only enhance studies, allowing librarians and researchers to produce answers and information faster and easier.

When I initially read the synopsis of this article, I admit I was sure it would be dry in content and less than interesting.  I was surprised, that although the topic may not be the most invigorating, there were insights found within the study completed that brought to light a variety of factors I would never have thought to consider, as they relate to search filters.  Each of these factors and elements introduced within the article offered helpful information, which I will be able to use in my future searching.  I am quickly learning in this program, that “reference work”, specifically database searching, is not nearly as simple or easy as I thought coming into this field.  There are so many functions that go unused within filtering, which could very well prove to be invaluable tools to enhance research skills.



Beale, S., Duffy, S., Glanville, J., Lefebvre, C., Wright, D., McCool, R., & … Smith, L. (2014). Choosing and using methodological search filters: searchers’ views. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 31(2), 133-147. doi:10.1111/hir.12062


One thought on “The Methodology of Search Filters

  1. Good summary! I mentioned this on another student’s blog post, too, that the idea of search filters goes way back in time to early MEDLINE (I think to the ’70s .. they used to be called “hedges”). Of course, back then, the MEDLINE db was much smaller, so I’m always interested in how the idea of a hedges/filters continues to work (or not) .. of course, we have much more detailed MeSH depth indexing these days!

    And thanks for replacing your earlier summary!!! 🙂


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