Gusenbauer, M., Haddaway, N. R.
What every researcher should know about searching – clarified concepts, search advice, and an agenda to improve finding in academia
in Research Synthesis Methods, 08.10.2020
Peer Review , Applied Sustainability Sciences
We researchers have taken searching for information for granted for far too long. The COVID‐19 pandemic shows us the boundaries of academic searching capabilities, both in terms of our know‐how and of the systems we have. With hundreds of studies published daily on COVID‐19, for example, we struggle to find, stay up‐to‐date, and synthesize information—all hampering evidence‐informed decision making. This COVID‐19 information crisis is indicative of the broader problem of information overloaded academic research. To improve our finding capabilities, we urgently need to improve how we search and the systems we use.
We respond to Klopfenstein and Dampier (Res Syn Meth. 2020) who commented on our 2020 paper and proposed a way of improving PubMed's and Google Scholar's search functionalities. Our response puts their commentary in a larger frame and suggests how we can improve academic searching altogether. We urge that researchers need to understand that search skills require dedicated education and training. Better and more efficient searching requires an initial understanding of the different goals that define the way searching needs to be conducted. We explain the main types of searching that we academics routinely engage in; distinguishing lookup, exploratory, and systematic searching. These three types must be conducted using different search methods (heuristics) and using search systems with specific capabilities. To improve academic searching, we introduce the “Search Triangle” model emphasizing the importance of matching goals, heuristics, and systems. Further, we suggest an urgently needed agenda toward search literacy as the norm in academic research and fit‐for‐purpose search systems.