Previous   Contents   Next
Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2005

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

Database Reviews and Reports

Technology Research Database of Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA)

Megan Sapp
Assistant Librarian, Coordinator of Reference
Siegesmund Engineering Library
Purdue University


Technology Research Database is a multi-disciplinary engineering and technology database. It includes the content of four databases: CSA Engineering Database (includes civil, earthquake, environmental, mechanical, and transportation engineering); CSA High Technology Research Database (includes aeronautics, computer & information technology, electronics, and physics); and CSA Materials Research Database with METADEX (includes materials science, metals & alloys, engineered materials, and ceramics).

In the last year, CSA redesigned its web search interface. CSA Illumina is a clean, uncluttered web interface that is primarily navigated by tabs at the top of the screen. With the launch of CSA's Illumina interface, CSA also overhauled several aspects of their databases. Using the new search platform, CSA increased the ease of searching multiple databases simultaneously, as well as individual databases. Similarly, CSA sought to create a thesaurus/index structure where one had previously not existed. The thesauri and indexes give greater access and therefore greater value to CSA's pre-existing databases.


Technology Research Database is similar in content to the combined Engineering Village 2's Compendex/Inspec database search platform. Technology Research Database contains 5,080,000 journal articles, conference proceedings, technical reports, and patent records as of January 2005. In contrast, Compendex alone contains over 8 million records while Inspec contains around seven million records. Both of these databases contain much larger back files than does Technology Research Database, with Compendex beginning coverage in 1884. Inspec's back files begin in 1969. (Inspec recently expanded their back file back into the 1800s. However, they haven't changed the documentation on their web site, so 1969 concurs with what they themselves advertise.) With a back file that begins in 1962, Technology Research Database is considerably less comprehensive than the combined Compendex and Inspec. Although Technology Research Database has some superior features to the EI Engineering Village 2 Compendex/Inspec interface, the difference in historical depth of Compendex and Inspec themselves relegates TRD to secondary importance in an academic setting. CSA is updated once monthly. Over the course of a year, 250,000-280,000 records are added.

CSA indexes journals, conference proceedings, technical reports, and patents. Although EI Engineering Village 2 offers a USPTO search with a separate subscription through the EI interface, Technology Research Database contains separately indexed patents that are simultaneously searchable with the rest of Technology Research Database's subfiles without an additional subscription. CSA offers fewer indexed publications (Compendex/Inspec contains over 5,000 publications while Technology Research Database contains over 4,000). Both databases index major publishers such as IEEE and ASME. The major difference between Technology Research Database and Compendex/Inspec is the presence (or absence) of extensive back files.

CSA provides a number of searchable fields and field codes that are targeted to specific publication types. All documents are indexed by title; author; affiliation; source; publication type; and publication year. Additionally, all documents in all sub-databases except Corrosion Abstracts are given subject descriptors.

For a journal article, these additional fields are indexed: ISSN; publisher; abstract; illustrations; number of references; and journal coverage. Journal articles are also searchable by journal issue; journal volume; and journal name.

Patents are searchable by issuing country of the patent and patent number. Often the author is identified by both author name and affiliation. All patents have a searchable field called classification. This field is present where descriptors are not and allows limited keyword searching. The information in this field does not correspond to the USPTO or Esp@cenet classification systems. The patent search is not comparable to a full patent search at the US Patent & Trademark Office's web site ( or at Esp@cenet ({}), but it does provide a basic search that suggests patents that are useful and that may lead searchers on to perform a full patent search.

For conference papers, most fields indexed for journal articles are present with the addition of a few extra fields specific to conference proceedings. Often conference papers have personal authors and corporate authors or author affiliations . Conference titles are indexed separately and are searchable.

CSA Search Interfaces

The Illumina interface has three search methods. All search interfaces allow the searcher to select the date range and limit to the latest updates, journal articles only, or English only. Additionally, the searcher can select the format of the returns. All of the searches allow for the use of wildcards. The asterisk * expands the root word, and searches for unlimited characters with a word. The question mark ? finds alternative spellings within a word by searching for a single character's place. A searcher can use up to two question marks to represent two characters.

Quick Search

Quick search is the default search interface. The quick search allows for a simple keyword search using Boolean logic and proximity operators. If no operators are used in the quick search, the default is a phrase search. The quick search looks most like common web search engines, and therefore will be most familiar to undergraduate students. Although it doesn't search like most web engines, which search by relevance, the students will turn to this interface first. This can lead to the students creating a search that does not work as anticipated in Technology Research Database when they create a phrase that will work by relevance, but is phrase searched in the database. Quick search is also a straightforward method of searching for specific records where a title phrase, author phrase, or identifying information such as journal title are known. There are two proximity operators that are supported in the quick search. "Near" specifies that the search terms are within ten words of each other. "Within X" is a more specific proximity search. X is a searcher-specified number of words between the keywords. X can be any number of words, from one to one hundred. The proximity search searches within the abstract however, so values of x that are 25 words or less will most likely prove more useful than large values of X.

Advanced Search

The advanced search is a structured search intended to assist in the creation of effective search logic and language (Figure 1). The search encourages the use of synonyms through automatic "or"s. Additional rows can be added by selecting the "Add Rows" link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Between rows, the operator can be changed among and, or, or not. Proximity searching is not supported in this interface. Truncation and wild cards are supported. This interface is useful for instruction with students. The structure encourages students to think about creating a search string that uses alternative wording or multiple synonyms for their search concept. For students who are not familiar with Boolean logic, and who have not been trained in search strategy, this interface could provide a natural transition into a lesson on focusing searches through use of concept mapping and expansive wording.

[Advanced Search Interface]
Figure 1 - CSA Illumina's Advanced Search Interface

Command Search

CSA Illumina also offers a command search interface (Figure 2). It is located under the search tools tab rather than labeled separately on the front screen. The command search offers the searcher an interface that allows full use of parenthetical searching, and 40 searchable field codes (Figure 3) that give full access to all parts of journal article, conference paper, and patent records. Boolean operators, proximity searches, truncation, and wild cards are supported in this interface. With little interface mediation, this search allows the search operator greater control, but also requires a greater amount of user education. For users who have been trained in Dialog or other pay per use databases, this interface will be comfortable and useful. However, for most patrons of engineering and technology libraries, this interface will be frustrating and impractical. The amount of user education required to make a patron proficient in this interface is prohibitive. Information professionals will enjoy this interface that allows so much control of the search, but for the ordinary patron, this interface is not the best option.

[Command Search Interface]
Figure 2 - CSA Illumina's Command Search Interface

Field Codes
The following field codes are found in the records of this database. Here they are listed in alphabetical order by two-letter code. See Field Codes and Search Examples for detailed descriptions and search examples.
AB = Abstract LA = Language
AF = Affiliation MC = Material Classification
AN = Accession Number ML = Material
AU = Author NR = Number of References
CA = Corporate Author NT = Notes
CF = Conference NU = Other Numbers
CL = Classification PA = Patent Application Data
DE = Descriptors PB = Publisher
DO = DOI PC = Patent Country
EA = E-mail Address PN = Patent Number
ED = Editor PR = Patent Priority Data
EI = Electronic ISSN PT = Publication Type
IB = ISBN PY = Publication Year
IL = Illustrations RE = References
IS = ISSN RL = Resource Location
JC = Journal Coverage RP = Report Number
JC = Journal Issue SF = Subfile
JN = Journal Name SO = Source
JV = Journal Volume TI = Title
KW = Keywords UD = Update

Figure 3 - CSA Illumina's Field Code List for Technology Research Database

Additional Features

In addition to the search interfaces, CSA offers several search tools that enhance the searchability of the database. CSA launched a thesaurus and an index with the Illumina platform. A newly designed Search History and Search Alert function were also premiered for the Illumina platform. Together, these features provide much more focused search capabilities and features that are in high demand in research institutions.

Thesauri and Indexes

The thesaurus covers record keywords in the descriptor field only. The thesaurus contains three different kinds of displays. The alphabetical thesaurus indexes keywords in phrase order by strict alphabetical organization. The rotated index display is alphabetical regardless of where in the phrase the keyword being searched falls. The rotated index also shows related terms. The hierarchical index display shows the relationship of the keywords to one another and the search phrase. Technology Research Database also has three indexes that cover publication type, author, and source. These represent the combined indexes of the four subfiles within Technology Research Database. There is no duplication of terms between the indexes and thesaurus. The publication type, author, and source are not included in the descriptors, and therefore do not appear in the thesaurus.

Search Alert

The search alert feature uses the command search mode to create a profile for article, conference article and/or patent records (Figure 4). Check boxes allow you to select from databases, recent references, patent references, and a database of web resources that CSA automatically searches along with Technology Research Database. The researcher can also create comments in the comment box to separate alerts by individual notes. Multiple databases within CSA can be searched at once, or a single database, such as Technology Research Database, can be selected as the individual target for the alert service. Alert can also be accessed by clicking the "Save as Alert" link under the Search History tab. This secondary route to a search alert allows patrons uncomfortable with the command search interface to use quick search or advanced search, and then set up the alert through the history tab under search tools.

[Search Alert Interface]
Figure 4 - CSA Illumina's Search Alert Interface

Search History

The history tab under search tools provides access to a numerated list of prior searches. Using the syntax # (list number), search sets can be combined with other search sets and other keywords using Boolean operators, proximity, truncation and wild cards. A narrowed search using the search history, for example, would be:

#2 and (auto* or car)

Searches are listed in reverse numerical order with the most recent search first.

Display of Search Results

Search results are organized by date or relevance. The leasing institution can decide which display to make the default. Results are displayed using a tabular menu at the top of the screen. Results are divided by publication type with all publications appearing by default. The searcher can choose to look at All; Journals; Peer-Reviewed Journals; Conferences; Reports; Patents; News; and Other citations. Under Other is posted generally results from the web site database that CSA includes by default in all searches in Technology Research Database.

Searchers have the option of short format; long format; long format without the references; and a custom format that allows the searcher to choose the fields that are displayed. In addition, CSA features a bibliographic citation format that is created using the "Quickbib." The Quickbib feature automatically formats the records into a bibliography in one of eight styles: APA; APA Annotated with Abstracts; AMA; Chicago; MLA; MLA with subscriber information; Turabian; and Uniform requirements for Biomedical Journals. CSA sends the information to the Quickbib web site (Figure 5) where it opens a separate window with the fully created bibliography in it. Once there, the user has the choice of printing, saving, e-mailing, or cutting and pasting the bibliography into a word processor document.

[Quickbib Output]
Figure 5 - Example Quickbib Output

Output Options

Users have multiple options for keeping the records that they have retrieved from Technology Research Database, including e-mail; saving the records in PC, Macintosh, or Unix formats; saving the records into HTML, plain text, Rich Text Format, Microsoft Office WordTM or the Quickbib format; printing the document to hard copy; or exporting the records to Refworks. Exporting the results to Refworks is straightforward. There is an "Export to Refworks" button on the results management screen that starts the process of exporting the citations.

Exporting records to EndNote is possible but challenging. The import filter for the Technology Research Database had not yet been built as of April 10, 2005. Therefore, the Endnote user needs to be savvy enough to create an import filter from scratch. The instructions included in the CSA Illumina: Help & Support menu do not correlate to the menu that is linked to at Endnote, and do not give a suggested template filter on which to base the creation of a new engineering/physical sciences import filter. Therefore, the user has little guidance from either CSA or Endnote.

General Limitations of the Technology Research Database

An obvious limitation of Technology Research Database is the scope of the database. The total database is about two-thirds the size of Compendex alone. It does not cover the history of engineering in the same comprehensive way that Compendex/Inspec does. It is also not growing at the same rate as Compendex/Inspec. Therefore, this limitation does not look likely to change any time soon. Technology Research Database relies on the use of field codes, which have become relatively uncommon in the age of web searching with natural language. While information professionals appreciate the option of field searching, particularly in the command search interface, most students look on field codes as a hassle, and will primarily use the quick search format. However, because CSA designed a database interface and database product with the option of three search interfaces, CSA has created an interface that can be comfortably searched at multiple levels of proficiency. This is a strength that makes Technology Research Database very useful within an academic setting. Finally, the thesaurus and index are both relatively straightforward to use, although the search button in the thesaurus screen is on the extreme left side of the screen, and is not readily noticeable, which makes the search confusing at times.

Suggestions for Improvement

Technology Research Database could be improved in multiple ways. It would make the thesaurus even better if the search button was made more visible on the thesaurus search screen. Students are growing more and more accustomed to using natural language search interfaces, so a natural expansion of Technology Research Database would be the addition of a fourth natural language search interface, or a reworking of the quick search to accept natural language searching. A small change that would enhance the users' experience with Technology Research Database would be to make the "Add a row" link on the Advanced search interface a noticeable button that is more visible. Finally, a nice addition to the current interface would be a noticeable link to the thesauri and indexes on the top half of the quick and advanced search screens. These are a few small changes that would enhance the users' experience of working with Technology Research Database.

For More Information:

CSA Technology Research Database Facts Sheet. 2005. [Online]. Available: {} [Accessed: April 10, 2005].

CSA Illumina Databases & Collections. N.D. [Online]. Available: {} [Accessed: April 12, 2005].

About EI Engineering Village 2. 2005. [Online]. Available: {} [Accessed: April 12, 2005].


Previous   Contents   Next

W3C 4.0