A Comparison of Automatic Boolean Query Formulation for Systematic Reviews

Information Retrieval Journal

Systematic reviews are comprehensive literature reviews that target a highly focused research question. In the medical domain, complex Boolean queries are used to identify studies. To ensure comprehensiveness, all studies retrieved are screened for inclusion or exclusion in the review. Developing Boolean queries for this task requires the expertise of trained information specialists. However, even for these expert searchers, query formulation can be difficult and lengthy: especially when dealing with areas of medicine that they may not be knowledgeable about. To this end, two computational adaptations of methods information specialists use to formulate Boolean queries have been proposed in prior work.

These adaptations can be used to assist information specialists by providing a good starting point for query development. However, a number of limitations with these computational methods have been raised, and a comparison between them has not been made. In this study, we address the limitations of previous work and evaluate the two.

We found that, between the two computational adaptions, the objective method is more effective than the conceptual method for query formulation alone, however, the conceptual method provides a better starting point for manual query refinement. This work helps to inform those building search tools that assist with systematic review construction.