There is a huge amount of information and data stored in publicly available online databases that consist of large text files accessed by Boolean search techniques. It is widely held that less use is made of these databases than could or should be the case, and that one reason for this is that potential users find it difficult to identify which databases to search, to use the various command languages of the hosts and to construct the Boolean search statements required. This reasoning has stimulated a considerable amount of exploration and development work on the construction of search interfaces, to aid the inexperienced user to gain effective access to these databases. The aim of our paper is to review aspects of the design of such interfaces: to indicate the requirements that must be met if maximum aid is to be offered to the inexperienced searcher; to spell out the knowledge that must be incorporated in an interface if such aid is to be given; to describe some of the solutions that have been implemented in experimental and operational interfaces; and to discuss some of the problems encountered. The paper closes with an extensive bibliography of references relevant to online search aids, going well beyond the items explicitly mentioned in the text. An index to software appears after the bibliography at the end of the paper.
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