Improving the translation of search strategies using the Polyglot Search Translator: a randomized controlled trial

Justin Michael Clark*, Sharon Sanders, Matthew Carter, David Honeyman, Gina Cleo, Yvonne Auld, Debbie Booth, Patrick Condron, Christine Dalais, Sarah Bateup, Bronwyn Linthwaite, Nikki May, Jo Munn, Lindy Ramsay, Kirsty Rickett, Cameron Rutter, Angela Smith, Peter Sondergeld, Margie Wallin, Mark JonesElaine Beller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Searching for studies to include in a systematic review (SR) is a time- and labor-intensive process with searches of multiple databases recommended. To reduce the time spent translating search strings across databases, a tool called the Polyglot Search Translator (PST) was developed. The authors evaluated whether using the PST as a search translation aid reduces the time required to translate search strings without increasing errors.

Methods: In a randomized trial, twenty participants were randomly allocated ten database search strings and then randomly assigned to translate five with the assistance of the PST (PST-A method) and five without the assistance of the PST (manual method). We compared the time taken to translate search strings, the number of errors made, and how close the number of references retrieved by a translated search was to the number retrieved by a reference standard translation.

Results: Sixteen participants performed 174 translations using the PST-A method and 192 translations using the manual method. The mean time taken to translate a search string with the PST-A method was 31 minutes versus 45 minutes by the manual method (mean difference: 14 minutes). The mean number of errors made per translation by the PST-A method was 8.6 versus 14.6 by the manual method. Large variation in the number of references retrieved makes results for this outcome inconclusive, although the number of references retrieved by the PST-A method was closer to the reference standard translation than the manual method.

Conclusion: When used to assist with translating search strings across databases, the PST can increase the speed of translation without increasing errors. Errors in search translations can still be a problem, and search specialists should be aware of this.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-207
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Medical Library Association
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Cite this