Chapter 26 Bibliographic Databases And Interfaces

When conducting a systematic review, you typically search through one or more bibliographical databases. Such databases are just stores of information, and are not easily searched unless you’re a computer. Therefore, interfaces to those databases have been developed.

For example, a database with bibliographic information on a lot of psychological literature is called PsycInfo That database is maintained by the American Psychological Association (the APA). The APA keeps track of new articles that appear and adds them to PsycInfo.

PsycInfo can be accessed through a variety of interfaces. Those interfaces are often (but not always) maintained by different organisations than those maintaining the databases. PsycInfo, for example, can be accessed through Ebsco, Ovid, and ProQuest.

This has a number of benefits. One is that once you’re familiar with a given interface, you can use those skills to search multiple databases. For example, your institutions may provide access to PsycInfo, MedLine, and PsycArticles through an Ebsco interface. It also allows you to search those databases simultaneously.

It also has a number of drawbacks. First, different interfaces work differently. The available operators, what they’re called, and the syntax you have to use to build a search query therefore differs per interface. If you want to search for a word, say “meta-analysis” in an article title, sometimes you indicate this by saying "meta-analysis" IN TI, and sometimes by saying TI("meta-analysis").

Second, the fields that exist differ per database. If you do search in multiple databases using the same interface, it is very important to clearly keep in mind which fields you search.

Therefore, if you conduct a systematic review, it is important to always preregister both the database(s) you plan to use and the interface(s) you plan to use. In addition, it is important to document the search query you use in every interface/database combination.