How to make screening less painful

You know that feeling when you are running searches for a patron, and want to pick out some of the most relevant papers for them, but it’s a Friday afternoon and your eyes are tired and zomg screening is the worst?

I’ve got a tip to make this process marginally less awful. This life-saving tip comes from a wonderful colleague at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.

First, run your search(es) and download your citations into EndNote (or another citation management program)* for screening. Generally, I only use this tip for general scoping (not for systematic review screening), so I usually end up downloading less than 200 citations for this process, and sometimes as few as 30.

Next, export your citations into a .rtf format with an export filter that includes both the citation information and the abstract. To do this in EndNote (v7), go to the dropdown menu at the top of the page and choose “select another style…”, then search for “annotated”. Click the one with the category “generic”, then click “choose”. You will notice that the preview pane for each citation now contains the citation’s information and its’ abstract.

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EndNote dropdown menu and preview pane

Next, export your references by clicking the blue arrow on the top bar. First, press ctrl + a to select all the references. Then save the filetype as .rtf and select “annotated” as your output style. Save the file wherever, then navigate to that folder and open it. It should automatically open in Microsoft Word (or the word processing program of your choice). The file should contain all of your references, with abstracts.

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exporting your references from EndNote

Now comes the fun bit! Press ctrl + H (or click “replace” in the main top bar). Under “find what”, type one of the main terms for your first concept. Then click anywhere in the “replace with” box, but instead of typing anything, click “More >>” to expand the options, then click the “format” dropdown box, then “highlight”. The word “highlight” ought to appear below the “replace with box”.

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Find and Replace in Microsoft Word

Still with me? Okay. Click “replace all”. Repeat this step with other terms that might be found in the titles and abstracts of the citations (but only for your first concept!). Once you have reached relative saturation, click the highlighter icon in the main top bar, and select a different highlighter colour. Next, repeat the same process as above with your second main concept, until you have reached relative saturation.

Ta da! At this point, you ought to have a pretty colour-coded document which helps you easily see the main concepts from your search. Screening this word document will be much less straining on the eyes and take less time because the main concepts have already been identified for you.

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Word document, ready for screening

This trick works better for some topics than others. My example above which uses the concepts of caring and attachment works pretty well. However, complex interventions or other areas with ever-changing terminology might not work as well.

Pro tip: in some cases, it is useful to send this colour coded document to your patron, and let them make decisions about what citations are relevant.

Another pro tip: instead of formatting with a highlighter, which only comes in garish colours (why, microsoft? why??), you can also format the text in any way you want. For example, you can put the relevant terms in bold or italics, or make the text itself different colours.

That’s it for today. Have you ever done this, or something similar? Do you have any protips for screening more quickly and efficiently? Send them to me on Twitter or through the Contact Me form!

* But seriously, if you’re not using EndNote, get on that.

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