Reporting of the Role of the Expert Searcher in Cochrane Reviews

Li Zhang, Margaret Sampson, Jessie McGowan


Introduction - This study applied the principles of evidence based information practice to clarify the role of information specialists and librarians in the preparation of Cochrane systematic reviews and to determine whether information specialists impact the quality of searching in Cochrane systematic reviews.

Objectives - This research project sought to determine how the contribution of the person responsible for searching in the preparation of Cochrane systematic reviews was reported; whether the contribution was recognized through authorship or acknowledgement; the qualifications of the searcher; and the association between the type of contributorship and characteristics of the search strategy, assessability, and the presence of certain types of errors.

Methods -

Data sources: The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Cochrane Library 3 (2002).

Inclusion criteria: The study included systematic reviews that met the following criteria: one or more sections of the Cochrane Highly Sensitive Search Strategy were utilised, primary studies were either randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs, and included and excluded studies were clearly identified.

Data extraction: Two librarians assessed the searches for errors, establishing consensus on discordant ratings.

Results - Of the 169 reviews screened for this project, 105 met all eligibility criteria. Authors fulfilled the searching role in 41.9% of reviews studied, acknowledged persons or groups in 13.3%, a combination in 9.5%, and the role was not reported in 35.2% of reviews. For the 78 reviews in which meta-analyses were performed, the positions of those responsible for statistical decisions were examined for comparative purposes. The statistical role was performed by an author in 47.4% of cases and unreported in the same number of cases. Insufficient analyzable data was obtained regarding professional qualifications (3/105 for searching, 2/78 for statistical decisions).

Search quality was assessed for 66 searches across 74 reviews. In general, it was more possible to assess the search quality when the searcher role was reported. An association was found between the reporting of searcher role and the presence of a consequential error. There was no association between the number of consequential errors and how the contribution of the searcher was reported.

Conclusions - Qualifications of the persons responsible for searching and statistical decision-making were poorly reported in Cochrane reviews, but more complete role reporting is associated with greater assessability of searches and fewer substantive errors in search strategies.

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