All Things Being Equal: Sorting Articles in One Issue of a Journal

My university and public libraries both offer the E-Journal Portal service.  Enter the name of a journal and the portal shows which databases deliver full-text articles in that journal.  Each database responds to this type of search with its own display personality. The differences in their presentations have implications for intellectual honesty that demonstrate once again the necessity of organizing information with an understanding of subject parameters.      

ProQuest does this type of search best by offering a journal title drilldown, which first presents a journal page with available issues listed in reverse chronological order. Clicking a date retrieves all articles in a single issue.  Two sorting options are offered.  The default is alphabetical by article title.  A page number sort replicates the table of contents.  ProQuest’s search screen provides a different user experience.  That list of retrieved titles sorts by “most recent first” (default) or by relevance.  In the journal title drilldown, those two sorts have no value because all articles have the same date and equal relevance.  Thus ProQuest provides different sorting capabilities for the two techniques.

            Gale’s Academic OneFILE offers journal title drilldown with no sorting capabilities.  It opens with the journal page and a list of available years.  Each year expands to display its issues in reverse chronological order.  The resulting titles display in page number order, but that is not the indicated sort.  The only listed sort option is publication date, which is actually the search criterion.  With the search screen technique, relevance is added to date as a sort option.  By eliminating the relevance sort from journal title drilldown, Academic OneFile acknowledges that relevance has no value for a list of titles from a single issue, but it offers no realistic sort capabilities.  Instead results are delivered pre-sorted by page number, with the sort indicated as publication date.           

EBSCO’s journal title drilldown is similar to Academic OneFile with the first page offering a list of years that expands into issues in reverse chronological order.  However in its sorting options, EBSCO acknowledges no difference between the journal title drilldown and search screen techniques.  Its Business Source Elite and MasterFILE Premier both allow sorting by date, source and relevance for results retrieved with journal title drilldown or from the search screen.  All three sorts are useless in a list of titles from the same issue of the same journal.  Selecting any of these sorts in journal title drilldown returns a list of titles in page number order, which like Academic OneFile, is not offered as a sort option.  Business Source Elite at the academic library offers a fourth option, a valuable author sort, but the public library’s MasterFILE Premier eliminates that advantage.

OCLC’s WilsonSelectPlus does not offer journal title drilldown.  Users of E-Journal Portal are simply taken to an empty search screen.  Those who want the drilldown must try a different database.  If they stick with WilsonSelectPlus, they are rewarded with advanced sorting capabilities, but not with a one-click list of articles in a single issue. 

Both ProQuest and WilsonSelectPlus maintain their intellectual honesty in the entire process.  ProQuest offers a separate journal title drilldown with distinct sort capabilities, thus recognizing that these results have different organizational parameters than the results from a search screen.  WilsonSelectPlus does not offer journal title drilldown.  While that is disappointing, the database is honest about its capabilities.  Academic OneFile is halfway there.  It does not offer relevance sorting for a list of titles from the same issue, instead it labels a page number sort as date.  EBSCO recognizes no difference between results obtained by journal title drill down and the search screen, providing a surreal user experience as the three sorting mechanisms of date, source and relevance all return titles in page number order.        

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May 2009

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