Suggested formatting improvements for RefBase

  • We have been trialling a test installation of our RefBase database. Several veterinary colleagues have tried using the database and have fed back their experiences and suggestions as to how it could be improved. Some of the items are options that are mentioned in the RefBase documentation, but I am including them for completeness.

    Kind regards,

    Douglas Grindlay
    School of Veterinary Medicine and Science
    University of Nottingham, UK

    1. The icons for “show details” and “goto web page” in all the results views are very small and hard to see – can they be made bigger?
    2. Likewise some of the text for commands is very small - Search & Display Options, Select All, Deselect All , List View | Citations | Details . Can these be made bigger (if nothing else, for accessibility reasons)?
    3. When you click on the external link (“goto web page” in results view, arrows in details view) the paper is opened in the same window so the view of the database is lost unless you use the back arrow button in the browser. Can you make the link to the paper open in a new window/tab (I seem to remember somewhere in the RefBase documentation or discussion forum that this is possible)?
    4. Some users thought the external links were not very obvious and hard to spot when looking at the search results screens and details screens. Can the links be made more prominent, e.g. provide a button or text such as “Link to article”.
    5. Can we increase the default number of records displayed on the results page from 5? I know from the RefBase documentation that this can be changed. The documentation I have read suggests the default number is actually 10 rather than the 5 in our current implementation. I might need to consult our team again to see exactly what number of results they think we should use as a default. I know some people think you should avoid having to scroll the web page to see all the contents, which would suggest 10 results is a good figure, but I like more. When I am using the database myself I find it easiest to have 100 results per page or even 300 which is the whole database - this is like the view you see in Endnote.
    6. Someone said that if they changed the number of references per page, and then went back to search again, it returned to the default of 5 per page. They asked I if it possible for the number of results they selected to be retained. I suspect this is not possible, at least between sessions, without some sort of log-in or IP recognition.
    7. People found it a nuisance having to remember to select “show all” each time the database is entered to see all the search results. The text is very small for this command on the home page - Home | Show All | Simple Search | Advanced Search. Could the “Show all” command be made bigger, or could it be made a button on the home page?
    8. Some people said the empty fields in the “show details” view look messy and asked if they could be hidden. Most of my records are journal articles and don’t use a lot of these fields, which are orientated to books and theses. However, there are three references at present that are books or book chapters and need these fields. It looks to me that unlike in Endnote, the fields in the records are common to all publication types and are presumably a fixed characteristic of the database. Could some of the fields be hidden if they don’t contain data (I suspect not)? Can we delete fields that we do not use at all?
    9. Once you view an individual record in “Details” view, the only way to go back to the search results or show all results screens is the browser’s back arrow. Would it be possible to embed a back button?
    10. One user suggested that the Search & Display Options should always be visible as this was the norm, rather than them being selected by clicking on Search & Display Options.
    11. Can the option to search the Abstract and Keywords fields be added to the Simple and Advanced search functions, as these are the main way for users to retrieve relevant topics? It is strange that these fields are included in the standard search that appears in the top bar of all views, but not in the options for the Simple and Advanced search functions.
  • Thanks for your feedback. To a large extent, styling is a matter of individual taste or at least needs to be tailored to a particular use case. Because of that and because of limited developer resources that are being channeled to improve functionality, you may want to tweak many of these things yourself. That being said, it is useful to get this list. I can point out which items we've heard before (and so which might be worth addressing "eventually") & which we haven't (so we'd be less likely to adopt these in the near-term). I can also make suggestions for you to address them yourself (or a developer that you hire).

    1. While we haven't heard that same concern, some haven't liked those icons at all and have wanted, e.g. the article title to be a link instead. For now, it is reasonably unlikely that we'll change the icons (there size is chosen to be in-line with the text in the table-based layouts & they work reasonably well across a range of device sizes). You'd have to change this, yourself, by editing search.php
    2. We haven't heard this concern. Screen readers are enabled by the "title" element. For this, you may want to edit css/style.css
    3. We've heard this before. We may want to make it easier to change this. I like the default. Every modern browser lets you open any link in a new window/tab if you want. Web pages that force this onto you are annoying. As you indicated, instructions/examples to do this exist.
    4. My answer to this is the same as the answer to 1.
    5. 10 is probably a saner default. Edit $defaultNumberOfRecords in initialize/; per-(logged in) user can be done through the user options tab.
    6. See 5.
    7. We haven't heard that one before & you can address this, yourself. I don't know your application. You might be able to have index.php redirect to show.php?records=all if you don't like the landing page (or to either give that link to people who prefer that view)
    8. Other people have customized this display. It is something we're less likely to do in the stock version, as we want to keep it as widely usable/consistent as possible. Edit search.php or css/style.css, depending on what you want to do.
    9. We haven't heard exactly this, but we have had one specific request for a breadcrumb style navigation. I've implemented this "for-hire" before, but I'm not sure how likely it is that we'll put it in the stock version (because: what's wrong with the broswer's back button?)
    10. Edit $defaultView in initialize/ to change it globally. This is an infrequent enough request that I'm not sure how likely it is we'd add it to user options. Maybe.
    11. advanced_search.php has these fields already. simple_search.php does not. Eventually, it'd be useful to customize this (just as we allow customization of "main fields" search)
  • Hi Douglas,

    just some quick additions to Rick's responses:

    Some people said the empty fields in the “show details” view look messy and asked if they could be hidden.

    When you're in Details view, the Display Options above the displayed record(s) offer you to show or hide groups of fields:

    • keywords & abstract
    • additional fields
    • user-specific fields (these are the fields with a yellow background)

    The chosen setting will actually be remembered for the user's current session. I.e., if you display another record in Details view, the display will honour your previously chosen setting.

    In addition, following variables in file initialize/ allow you to specify global defaults for the display of additional fields and user-specific fields in Details view:


    Once you view an individual record in “Details” view, the only way to go back to the search results or show all results screens is the browser’s back arrow.

    You could also make use of the "history" link (above the record or search results) which allows you to recall any previous query from your current session.

    W.r.t. some of your other questions where you're asking to make things bigger: As Rick already mentioned, file css/style.css should allow you to tweak the appearance to suit your needs. If CSS isn't something you're familiar with, I'd suggest to hire a student etc who does it for you.

    Best regards, Matthias

    • Thanks for your comments, Rick and Matthias.

      I personally find the database easy to use as it is, but thought it important to feed back these comments from a range of non-specialist users. Familiarity through regular use of the database will soon make it easy for them. What does seem to be missing in the Help documentation is a simple, introductory description of the different views and how to use the search functions.



      Last edit: Douglas Grindlay 2013-05-31