Background: Information retrieval (IR) in health technology assessment (HTA) calls for transparency and reproducibility, but common practice in the documentation and presentation of this process is inadequate in fulfilling this demand.
Objectives: Our objective is to promote good IR practice by presenting the conceptualization of retrieval and transcription readable to non-information specialists, and reporting of effectively processed search strategies.
Methods: We performed a comprehensive database search (04/2010) to synthesize the current state-of-the-art. We then developed graphical and tabular presentation methods and tested their feasibility on existing research questions and defined recommendations.
Results: No generally accepted standard of reporting of IR in HTA exists. We, therefore, developed templates for presenting the retrieval conceptualization, database selection, and additional hand-searching as well as for presenting search histories of complex and lengthy search strategies. No single template fits all conceptualizations, but some can be applied to most processes. Database interface providers report queries as entered, not as they are actually processed. In PubMed®, the huge difference between entered and processed query is shown in “Details.” Quality control and evaluation of search strategies using a validated tool such as the PRESS checklist is suboptimal when only entry-query based search histories are applied.
Conclusions: Moving toward an internationally accepted IR reporting standard calls for advances in common reporting practices. Comprehensive, process-based reporting and presentation would make IR more understandable to others than information specialists and facilitate quality control.