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Students' search process and outcome in Medline in writing an essay for a class on evidence‐based medicine

Saila Huuskonen (Department of Health Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)
Pertti Vakkari (Department of Information Studies, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 7 March 2008




The aim of this study is to explore to which extent searching by medical students in Medline produces information items useful for writing an essay measured by precision and relative recall as perceived by the students, the proportion of cited items, and their utilization on four dimensions of the essay writing task evaluated by external assessors. It also aims to study interrelations of search process and outcome.


The study subjects were 42 third year medical students attending a class on Diagnostic and therapy. Searching in Medline was a part of their assignment of essay writing. The data consist of students' printed logs of Medline searches, students' assessments of the usefulness of the references retrieved, a questionnaire concerning the search process, and evaluation scores of the essays given by the teachers of the class. Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated for answering the research questions.


The paper finds that precision and relative recall were not associated with evaluation scores in three of the four dimensions assessed. Some of the process variables were associated with precision and with assessment scores in two of the four dimensions assessed. Citing rate was negatively associated with recall. It seems that precision and recall are only weakly, if at all, associated to the use of information in the documents retrieved for writing the essay. Precision and relative recall are not associated to the way information in the retrieved items is used for performing the task. Users evidently look for a sufficient number of documents containing enough information for progressing in their task. Precision and recall are not sufficient measures in evaluating IR systems, but they have to be completed by other measures indicating the impact of the system on users’ task performance.


The paper provides useful information on students' information search process.



Huuskonen, S. and Vakkari, P. (2008), "Students' search process and outcome in Medline in writing an essay for a class on evidence‐based medicine", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 64 No. 2, pp. 287-303.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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