Presenting literature search results
My colleague SMF and I have an ongoing discussion about how we present literature search results to our customers. We know that:
1) our view of relevance is broader than our customers and we might have some very good articles that don’t explicitly use their terms in the title and abstract
2) we are very thoughtful and careful in our search strategies and cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses of the resources and tools we use (see Dave Hook’s discussion of quantifying a negative search
3) our work provides an extremely important basis for ongoing work and can cost/save the customer or enterprise money, prestige, time – but, users of our work need to be aware of any disclaimers
4) we work with people who are used to looking inside the black box
5) we may have misunderstood or incompletely covered the subject so gaps in the results might be mistaken for a lack of information, not that the subject wasn’t searched.
So, it sounds like I’m already decided. I like to start my literature search reports with an executive summary, and then provide a methodology section before presenting the results. This way I can bring attention to any results as I see fit. A couple of times, I have create a pie chart and this was well received. Sometimes, though, it is like getting someone to eat your Brussels sprouts, not drink the kool-aid. All this writing takes time and we charge for time and there is never enough time. Our descriptions and disclaimers can be cut off of the results. Our customers do trust us and sometimes just want the answer.
Anyway, I try to be disciplined about keeping a log of my search strategies and decisions I’ve made in literature searches. I do a write up when I have time and can mostly do one later if I need to from my notes.
This is something that should be emphasized in library school, I think.