Sunday, October 17, 2010

Online Research History

You've signed on to LexisNexis or Westlaw and started doing research on that big paper. Then, just as you are making some progress, you are interrupted and must sign out. Several days later, you would like to pick up where you left off, but where, exactly, were you? What databases had you tried? What searches had turned out to be the best?

Well, this is a problem that also afflicts general Internet searching. Before you know it, you have clicked on link after link, opened several new tabs, and are not quite sure how to get back to that wonderful site you found earlier. There is a recent paper, written by two folks from Google and two folks from universities that address this issue. Here is their goal, from the article's abstract:

We propose the concept of research trails to help web users create and reestablish context across fragmented research processes without requiring them to explicitly structure and organize the material. A research trail is an ordered sequence of web pages that were accessed as part of a larger investigation; they are automatically constructed by filtering and organizing users’ activity history, using a combination of semantic and activity based criteria for grouping similar visited web pages.

The article goes on to say that, although web browsers keep a "history" of visited websites, recreating (especially) new, investigative research is too difficult with just a list of URLs, or even URLs with page thumbnails. Certainly, if the authors have their way, this problem will be alleviated in the future.

But, let's go back to that research you started on Westlaw or LexisNexis. Fortunately for you, both services have a "research trail" (Westlaw) or "history" (LexisNexis), that provides you with a lot of information about that first session. For both services, look up at the top of the screen on the right side to find the link.

On LexisNexis, that history is kept on two tabs: recent results (the past 24 hours), and archived activity (the past 30 days). All of your research is kept, a "get a document," "shepard's," or a search in a database. Each search, with the number of documents retrieved, is listed along with the database you used. Rerunning a search is as easy as clicking on it.

On Westlaw, the current research trail is the one you are working on at the time. Older trails are reached by clicking on the "List of all Research Trails" link. Trails are listed by date (like on LexisNexis), but you can rename them to reflect your project, and even add your own notes. They are kept automatically for 14 days, but you can extend them with a click of your mouse. Similar to LexisNexis, your search activity and databases are listed along with every document you viewed. Rerun a search by clicking on its link.

So, don't let that first research session on Westlaw or LexisNexis go to waste! No need to start all over again. Use the LexisNexis history or the Westlaw research trail link to start just where you left off.

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