Guidance and Courses

Conducting your search

As with any academic research project, it is important to have a strategy before embarking on a search for programmes. Not only does this make the process simpler in the long run, but it can provide clear direction to readers, peer reviewers and (where applicable) PhD examiners regarding the justifications behind the search terms that you use.

Research question(s)

A good place to start is defining and refining your research question(s). While this may seem obvious, what your research question entails can affect your approach to using BoB and TRILT. You may already be clear on the topic you want to investigate, but do you have additional criteria?

Criteria for constraining searches

For many potential studies, the body of broadcast media (BM) that might theoretically be examined will exceed the capacity of the research team – breadth will have to give way to appropriate depth in order to extract the most relevant conclusions. Either at this stage, or after an initial global survey, you are likely to wish to constrain the search in some way. What criteria might you choose, and why? The most obvious are: type of media, dates, specific channels, and genre. We will consider each of these in turn.

  • BoB offers access to TV and radio. A project might examine the representation of a theme in both media, or choose to focus on just one. It may be, for example, that you choose to limit analysis to television in order to exploit the potential to examine visual framing, as noted above. There are also pragmatic reasons for restricting a project to TV. One of the strengths of BoB is the capacity to include transcripts in the search (Table 1). However, transcripts are not automatically available for radio programmes, therefore a study involving mixed-media will naturally be skewed towards TV over radio, and this may be sufficient reason to exclude radio entirely.

  • The issue of the dates within which analysis is conducted is crucial for any project. You might carry out a preliminary examination without any time restrictions just to “see what is there”, but at some point you are going to need to put in some constraints. Given that BoB is a “live” archive, with new material being added daily, you will at a minimum need to set an end date for your search. Do bear in mind, again, that you need to justify any decision to a reviewer, and this may have a bearing on the specific date chosen. For example, if you actually conducted your search on 17th January 2022 because this was a project undertaken by a student starting in the second semester, you might choose to set the end date to 31st December 2021 as this looks like a more logical terminus for a reader.

      There may be significant dates that emerge from the content of the project itself that will define either a starting point, or a pivotal mid-point of the survey. For example, you may have chosen to explore television coverage of environmental disasters, and selected reporting of the Deepwater Horizon oil spillage of 20th April 2010 as your starting date.

        Another dynamic in the decision about dates rests with the evolution of the BoB database itself. Although BoB began in 2007, the service was initially “on demand” in the sense that inclusion of programmes was user-driven. Students and staff at member institutions had a window of 10 days pre-transmission and 30 days post-transmission in which to request an episode. Programmes on many channels that were not selected were then lost to the service (unless they are later re-broadcast). This remains true. Materials from certain channels, however, could be imported at a later stage, for example if they had been recorded as part of the Off-Air Back-Up Service (which started with BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 retained from June 1998 with further channels added later). Additionally, in partnership with the BBC, Learning on Screen can now offer members extended access to the BBC's entire digitised archive of broadcasts. Researchers should email Learning on Screen to enquire about any BBC titles of interest that are not already available to request in TRILT. Once availability is confirmed, the programme can be requested via the Off Air Recording Back-Up Service (each member institution has an annual quota of such requests). Ordered programmes will then be imported into BoB and will thereafter be available to all users.

        The capacity to import materials from the Back-Up Service or the BBC is, incidentally, one of the reasons why an initial survey ought to include use of TRILT as well as BoB, since these programmes will show up in the former but not the latter.

        The capacity for any user to request any programmes from the full range to be imported into BoB during a recognised window either side of transmission has been a consistent feature of the service. In terms of research, however, a fundamental shift occurred from 1st August 2016. After that date, everything broadcast on the “core channels” (the same ones that had been included in the Off-Air Back-Up Service from 1998) were automatically imported into BoB, even if no specific user-request was generated. The TV channels presently included are: BBC ONE (London and network), BBC TWO, ITV 1 (London and network), Channel 4, Five, BBC Four and More4. BBCNews24 and SkyNews were added from April 2020, to ensure complete coverage of pandemic-related news and evaluation, and Al Jazeera was included from March 2022. BBC Three has been recorded routinely since it returned to terrestrial broadcast, also in March 2022. Additionally there are two core radio channels: BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra (formerly BBC 7).

        It may be, therefore, that a researcher might elect to start their survey from the 1st August 2016 to reflect this structural aspect of the archive. A search might go from that date until a defined date nearer the present, or they might choose to set 31st July in a particular year as an end-point, in order to report on a specific number of complete years.

        • Decision about which channels to include or exclude may itself be influenced by a number of factors. For example, a decision to restrict a TV-based project only to consideration of the “core channels” would make sense if the date of automatic ingestion (1st August 2016) had been set, since this milestone has no bearing on the other channels. Additionally, a decision might be made to exclude channels for which transcripts are not routinely generated (e.g. Al Jazeera). As with other criteria, decisions need to be justifiable to a potential reviewer or reader.

        • For some projects a diversity of programme-types may be ideal, for example, to compare and contrast representations of physical disabilities in documentaries and fiction. For other research the capacity to limit findings to either one or the other would be preferred.

        • The platform(s) you use will depend on these questions, as BoB and TRILT have differences in the criteria by which you can filter your searches. Some key examples of these differences are illustrated in Table 1.

          Table 1: The availability of criteria that can be used to filter searches on BoB and TRILT

          As noted, an important difference between BoB and TRILT lies with the nature of the material that is being searched. Within BoB, a major contributory factor to searches is scrutiny of programme transcripts. Conversely, these are not accessible to the TRILT search engine. However the latter has greater access to meta-data about any programme, and to additional information about potential source of copies of the programme over and above BoB itself. TRILT also goes back further in time than BoB. The search interface and potential filters in BoB are currently more limited than in TRILT. This variety of strength and weaknesses of the two tools means that we suggest that initial surveys are conducted via both platforms.

          Search terms

          The next step is to determine the search terms that will be employed. Whilst you may have a rough idea of what should be included, a more academically-rigorous approach to this step requires conduct of a thorough literature search and review to identify appropriate key terms relating to the topic. This might include both academic and ‘grey’ literature; some broadcast media actively refrain from using academic terminology in favour of terms that are more accessible to non-experts and thus employing only technical or specialist terms may limit the number of matches. Grey literature, such as government reports, can help in identifying more comprehensible synonyms and the phrases that were more likely to have been used in news bulletins.

          Additionally, searches do not have to be a single word or term; both BoB and TRILT allow you to use Boolean operators to help broaden or narrow your search. As an example: if your overall research topic is Henry VIII, but you specifically want to explore portrayals of war during his reign, you could search ‘“Henry VIII” AND “war”’, ‘”Henry VIII” AND “battle* ”’ [Note: the asterisk here is a recognised means to include variations at the end of the word, e.g. “battle” and “battles”. This can be especially useful if you were attempting one search for several related words simultaneously, for example a search for “health* ” would include health, healthy, healthier and healthiest].

          There are differences between the conduct of searches using BoB and TRILT. For example, when searching with Boolean operators, the advanced search filter on TRILT allows you to select an operator; however, in BoB this must be done manually (Figure 1). We will illustrate these options using a search for “Henry VIII” and “wars”.

          Figure 1: Conducting searches with more than one term in TRILT and BoB

            (a) Search in TRILT

              (b) Search in BoB

                Note: provided you have the terms you want to search inside different quote marks, you do not actually need to include the word AND.

                To minimise result duplication – for example, repeat broadcasts of the same programme – the “Show only latest broadcast” filter can be selected in TRILT’s advanced search (Figure 2). In BoB, this feature is used by default (alternative options are available, but must be actively chosen). This does not completely eliminate the possibility of duplicate results; other factors leading to repetition are discussed in Section 3.

                It is worth pausing briefly to consider why the search defaults to the most recent recording of a programme that has been transmitted on more than one occasion. The technical quality of recordings has improved over time, so it is assumed that the most recent iteration will offer users the best viewing experience. Researchers do need to be mindful, however, that it may in fact be the earliest transmission date that is most applicable for their purposes, e.g. if another programme is a response to the first, or builds upon material it contained.

                Reporting of search results in both tools is limited to the first 1000 matches. We suggest that for most projects, this is more matches than you will be able to usefully consider, and that inclusion of some additional filter(s) may be necessary. If, for some reason, you do need to know exactly what all of the programmes were, you might need to use a series of consecutive date range filters to allow each to be returned in turn.

                Figure 2: Ways to minimise repetition of the same programme in searches

                  (a) In TRILT, select the “Show only latest broadcast” option

                  Note that a range of other filters (e.g. date of transmission, TV and/or Radio, and specific Genre or Channels) can also be selected at this point, or later.

                  (b) Search options in BoB

                  In BoB, the search automatically selects only the most recent transmission. You could list more by selecting “Show repeat broadcasts”. Searches can be constrained in terms of Date ranges, and Channels (“Popular” and “Custom” allows restriction to only specified channels). There is also the potential to look within “Public Playlists” which will look for user-generated keywords. However, the system defaults to “Programmes” and we imagine for most research projects this will be the mode to use.