The diverse nature of agricultural information and an increasing number of online databases containing relevant material present problems for the online searcher. Limited database comparisons have been previously carried out, but these have only concerned themselves with comparisons between major agricultural files. The present study compares eleven databases which contain information on various aspects of agriculture, in particular agrochemicals. An in‐depth investigation was carried out on the degree of database overlap with respect to two test questions, and the value of the available search facilities evaluated. The databases were ranked according to the volume of relevant output retrievable from the test questions, and the percentage of novel references calculated with respect to the highest ranking database, and also with respect to all databases. The larger biological databases and Chemical Abstracts supplied the greatest number of references with a relatively low level of overlap. The environmental files produced a lower number of references — even to a question on pollution of freshwater, although figures for percentage novelty were comparable. Thus a comprehensive search would entail the use of multiple databases, although 66% (question 1) to 84% (question 2) of the total number of references were retrieved using 2–3 files. A number of databases could be searched using classification codes, and four files contained abstracts which were searchable via keywords. The improvement in recall from using codes varied across the databases and, to a lesser degree, between questions. There was a uniformly marked increase in relevant recall when keywords were retrieved from abstracts. It was considered valuable for searchers to apply these techniques to other subject areas.
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