find questions you should ask yourself relative to Database development
and use. You also may apply these questions
for Web development and use as well.
(the Southern California Online User Group) came up with ten headings
or criteria by which databases should be judged;
is interpreted to mean the extent to which records within
a database follow the rules with regard to field assignments,
field tags and other data elements, as well as indexing and
well does the database cover its subject area(s)? Is it the
"authoritative" file in its discipline?
periodicals indexed cover to cover? If not, is the producer's
policy on inclusions and exclusions clearly stated?
there any serious gaps (including short- or long-term gaps
caused by technical problems) or misinterpretations? Are temporary
problems or changes in file content flagged in a log-on banner?
often is the file updated?
current is the material included in each update?
one type of publication have priority over others? If so,
is this documented?
time-sensitive sources available in near-real-time?
the load cycle vary from system to system (host to host or
medium to medium), so that one version of a database is consistently
more or less timely than another?
data sources are used? How current and complete are they?
there a prevalence of typographical errors, incomplete records
or other dirty data? What percentage of errors occur in critical
fields (e.g. company name, numeric)? What is the error rate
percentage of records are received by the database producer
on tape as opposed to being keyed or scanned in?
quality control procedures does the producer employ?
faulty records identified and/or removed and corrected?
corrections in the source material or print equivalent incorporated
in the database? If so, how promptly?
there a mechanism for users to tag faulty records and bring
them to the attention of the database producer?
searchers compensated for unusable information?
category covers both access to online services and, at the
database level, access to the information itself.
the system require special software or dedicated hardware?
the user sign up online, or must written contracts be negotiated
the database accessible through gateways as well as directly?
the system support full and variable proximity searching?
Are there limits on word adjacency?
there a mechanism for searching literals and stop words as
parts of phrases?
there built-in equivalencies and on/off automatic pluralization?
terms be plucked from an online thesaurus and used in a search
a search strategy be saved and reused in another database?
there a multilingual thesaurus with an automatic synonym option?
the database itself, how deeply and flexibly are the records
indexed? What kind of subject indexing, if any, is used?
data elements are searchable? If some are display-only, is
this clearly documented?
full-text records does a "KWIC" display blow back
to the current page rather than to the beginning of the record?
[blow back is their phrase - I leave you to guess!]
there a "locate" feature that will display the occurrence
of any term - not just search terms - in an existing answer
there a well-maintained online thesaurus?
the overall database structure resemble that of other files
of the same type that are likely to be searched with it?
field and output format tags match those used in comparable
databases on the same system?
multiple files be searched together?
the system support duplicate detection and removal?
there system-wide journal lists and other cross-database search
links been forged between bibliographic and full-text records
in the same database and in different ones?
one link from textual records to related information in external,
perhaps multimedia sources?
one search for a journal or other source by name, without
knowing or specifying the database that carries it?
the user define custom formats? Can pages or portions of a
document be printed selectively?
search results be batch-printed and sent by mail, electronic
mail, diskette or fax?
print commands be bundled or stacked?
search output be downloaded into spreadsheets or database
downloading possible with the correct formatting (e.g. for
there an auto-logoff option that will disconnect from the
system at the end of a print or download session?
the system support data compression? Error checking?
is the highest baud rate that the system supports?
record aesthetically acceptable, e.g. not all in upper case?
tables and graphic material included, or just referenced?
If included, how are they formatted and presented? If not,
are captions included?
both print and online documentation timely, accurate and readable?
Is it available free or at nominal cost?
a print thesaurus available?
there regular mailings of newsletters, search aids and other
support material? Is this information practical and useful?
documentation locally-resident (as opposed to online), e.g.
on disk? If so, is this well designed and easily searchable?
online help available? Is it context-sensitive?
log-on banners and other online pointers alert the user to
database limits and useful features, as well as to temporary
the source level, does database documentation outline editorial
policies with regard to coverage dates, currency, inclusions
and exclusions? [My addition: Are these shown online at logon
or printed on the disc itself?]
support and training
there a toll-free number for customer service?
live, knowledgeable customer support available whenever the
system itself is up?
customer support be reached via electronic mail, and is it
responsive in this fashion?
kind of training is available, both basic and advanced? Does
training cover applications as well as mechanics?
training free or reasonably priced? Do training sessions include
free post-session practice time?
what degree is training available outside the main urban centers?
customer support available in countries other than that in
which the system or database producer is located?
there computer-based or video tutorials, or other forms of
there a low-cost or after-hours practice file?
the producer or online service support user advisory panels,
sponsor formal update sessions or encourage local and national
free time offered on a file being used for the first time?
Is there a "free file of the month" policy?
changes made to database without warning/documentation for
general system characteristics like speed and performance,
pricing structures and display options support efficient,
cost-effective searching? Examples: must one wait for a screen
to fill? Can documents be scrolled continuously?
there at least one free or inexpensive default format? For
documents, does this format include title and publication
year? In hybrid files, does it include a full-text indicator?
a KWIC display supported?
display and print charges for various formats consistent with
other databases on the system? How well do these costs reflect
the value of the data elements presented? How are user-defined
formats priced relative to fixed formats that contain the
it cost about the same to print off-line as it does to print
online (assuming the connect charges associated with the latter
will about equal the "per hit" cost differential
between an online and a more expensive off-line print)?
search results be sorted or relevance ranked?
the break key work while the system is processing a search,
as well as during document display? Is there a charge for
items included in the display command that have not yet been
displayed? Is there a charge for partially displayed items?
multiple hit charges imposed every time the same item is displayed
in a search session, or do costs "top out" at a
one-time charge for the fullest format in which the item was
there a surcharge for access at higher baud rates, or global
Is cost accounting available at any point during a search
session, as well as at log-off?
there upfront subscription fees, monthly maintenance costs
or minimum usage charges?
addition to these general measures, SCOUG came up with some criteria
specific to the type of database.
files should offer the following:
required fields: author, affiliation, title, source, country
of origin, publication date, abstract, unique numbers (registry,
contract, etc.), indexing
file structure for similar databases, with standardized tags
for document numbers, chemical compounds and formulae, etc.
databases have these special needs:
coverage at the source level, i.e.., Cover-to-cover indexing
of all issues. Exceptions, gaps and cessation's should be documented
databases come in many forms - company, product, association, biographical,
etc. Questions of content and access are especially crucial here,
because a directory file is used like a reference book. If a listing
is missing, inaccessible or flawed, there's often nowhere else to
look for it.
product directories, include price, product description and/or
evaluation, purchasing contact. Use a standardized parts nomenclature,
e.g. SIC code, patent number, company stock number