I have recently received an email from a librarian in Sweden asking about the use of colours in Trip.  Hopefully this post will answer her questions and also prove useful to others.

A small bit of background first: when someone is presented with a list of results the mind attempts to make rapid sense of them; to better understand them.  The mind uses heuristics to minimise the cognitive load, the lighter the load the better for the user.

It is for that reason I introduced a colour coding system in Trip.  While everyone might know that Cochrane, NICE and AHRQ are likely to be higher quality (using secondary review methods) what about other, smaller, lesser known publishers that we include in Trip?  For instance, a user might not have heard of BestBETs and therefore – falsely – relegate the ‘worth’ of that article.  Similarly, many users might feel that preeminent journals such as NEJM and The Lancet must be high-quality.  However, within Trip we only count these as medium quality as they have only gone through peer-review (itself a highly flawed quality control system).

In other words there is a hierarchy, based on likely quality of article/publisher, within Trip.  Quality is perhaps an over-simplification, it’s more robustness and transparency of method (but the two are closely linked).  This hierarchy features heavily in our search algorithm (the technique we use to decide on the order of articles on the results page), which favours higher-quality, secondary review type evidence

In Trip we use the colour system to reflect the quality hierarchy.

In the image above (click to enlarge) you can see two areas where we use colour:

  • On the right-hand side, associated with the refine/filtering system. As you can see next to Evidence-based Synopses, Systematic reviews there are green ‘flashes’ and as you move down the quality hierarchy the colours change.  At the bottom we have the yellow for eTextbooks.
  • On the left-hand side, associated with each result is a colour flash.  In the top result, it’s an AHRQ publication, which has a green flash – indicating that it’s likely to be high quality.  Under that are articles from the journals Breast cancer and Anticancer research, both of which are primary research journals.  They have orange flashes as they are controlled trials.

So, the two sides of colours are linked and should help users quickly locate the content that best suits their needs.