The one where we added meaning

Designing a better-informed information discovery experience

The optimum way for researchers to search CABI’s abstracts database, CAB Direct, is using standardised keywords from the CAB Thesaurus. However, most users wouldn’t know this so we wanted to help them in their searches by providing extra information about the keywords.

The solution

  • The final design was for a feature that highlights keywords within the journal paper abstracts. Clicking on the keywords provides a popup modal with a description from Wikipedia and suggested related keywords.

How I approached the project

  • I worked closely with the Product Owner of CAB Direct to brainstorm ideas based on trends in similar abstract database products and feedback from our customers (academic librarians)
  • This was an exploratory piece of work and therefore our ideas developed a lot throughout the UX process
    Keywords presented in a hierarchical tree structure
    Hierarchical tree structure of Thesaurus keywords
  • We thought that researchers might want to browse the Thesaurus keywords, discovering the links between them through a hierarchical tree structure. I created mock-ups of ways to browse linked keywords and tested these with researchers at the Royal Veterinary College to get their feedback
  • Users were not keen on the tree-based navigation of keywords so we tested other ideas:
    • Suggested search - keywords are suggested below the search box as the user starts to type - this helps prevent typos (one user said it helped her as she is dyslexic) and suggests phrasing that users might not have thought of
    • Keyword modal - keywords are highlighted within the journal paper abstract - this helps users who are less familiar with the subject of the paper (particularly students) get a better understanding of what the paper is about, and also suggests related keywords to improve their searches
    • Keyword page - showed related articles and news, images and a chart of appearances in the literature - despite us thinking this was a cool idea, users didn’t find the information relevant to their workflows - they didn’t want to read news when they were trying to do research
    A webpage showing information about Plasmodium falciparum from several different sources including Wikipedia and SciDevNet
    Our keyword page idea showed information about a keyword from several different sources including Wikipedia and SciDevNet
  • I created interactive prototypes of our ideas in Axure, which we then tested with undergraduate students, doctoral students, post docs and lecturer/researchers in universities in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur
We weren’t sure if academics would approve of the keyword modal containing information from Wikipedia articles but they said they searched Wikipedia themselves if they were unfamiliar with a word


  • The keyword modal idea was well received by the users we tested with. The consensus was that the Wikipedia information would be most useful for those new to a subject, particularly undergraduate students. Those who were more advanced in their research were already knowledgeable about the terminology in their subject area and so didn’t require definitions of words. However, everyone was interested in being able to view related keywords so that they could expand or refine their searches using these words.
  • As an additional comms piece, I edited together a user interview highlights reel, which we presented at the UX roadshow we ran for World Usability Day. This helped us to communicate what we were doing to our colleagues within CABI, and demonstrate that this was backed up with evidence gained from user research.
  • We hope to implement the suggested search feature next to aid users right from the start of their research journey.
A modal showing information about the keyword from the Thesaurus and Wikipedia
The final design was a modal showing information about the keyword from the Thesaurus and Wikipedia