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Get To Know The Gateway: Metadata Search Functionality

Written by: Abhishek Karmakar

Published on: Jun 02, 2021


The family of Health and Retirement studies conduct surveys on the aging population around the world. The questions asked within these surveys contain valuable information about what topics of interest are captured within the respective questionnaires. Since our objective is to provide an overview of the HRS family surveys, our team maintains a database of the questionnaire metadata spanning all the waves of each survey released to date. To aid our visitors in finding particular questions/variables of interest in our indexed metadata, we have provided a metadata search feature on our Surveys at a Glance page.

The following are the search parameters you can provide to narrow down your search:

  • By keywords or by selecting from over 100 sub-topics. You can choose the type of search under Search all surveys by.
  • By source. The source could be: a survey questionnaire – parts of a survey could include the core interview, end of life interview, life history interview, health assessment, self-completion interview and/or HCAP or a harmonized dataset spanning all the waves for a particular aging study (constructed by our
  • By year, ranging from 1992 to 2018. Since most surveys occur every other year, we organize survey waves according to two-year groupings, e.g. 1992-93 or 2018-19. Each harmonized variable could be associated with a single wave or all waves of a survey. This implies that each search result is tagged with a consecutive even year-odd year pair (R1SHLT belongs to the 1992-93 period in the RAND HRS).

Tips - search by keyword:

  • You can fine tune your search by using a combination of search operators.
  • The ampersand (&) is implicit in each keyword query, i.e. the space & ampersand can be used interchangeably. (searching for pension policy is the same as pension & policy)
  • Use the pipe symbol (|) to match either of the keywords in the results. (adl | iadl)
  • Use the minus symbol (-) to exclude keywords from the results (heart -attack will return results containing heart but not attack)

Tips - search by subtopics:

  • Figure 1 orders the sub-topics available (in the metadata search bar) by parent topics.
  • The sub-topics selection menu contains a search box to look through any options of interest.
  • Only the constructed variables in the harmonized datasets are tagged with sub-topics


On clicking the search button, the search results (or matches) found from your initial query are displayed in a table. Above this table, you can see the total number of matches found (top-left) and a menu to alter the number of matches you would prefer to be displayed per page (top-right). Below the table, you can find the page navigation bar (bottom-right) to look through all the results in a concise manner.

Each row in the search results table represents a matching question/harmonized variable in our metadata collection, described by the following columns:

  1. Label: The identifier for the question in a survey instrument/The variable name in a harmonized dataset.
  2. Survey: The survey to which the question belongs/The harmonized dataset the variable belongs to
  3. Module: The module of the survey instrument under which the question was asked/The section of the harmonized dataset that the variable is included in.
  4. Details: Lists out the description, the response data type & the response choices for a question. (Similarly, for a harmonized dataset variable.)
  5. Subtopic (optional): The sub-topic tag for a harmonized dataset variable.

Above the results table, you can also find the Filter By.. parameters. These clickable tabs enable the user to view a subset of the results and to see a breakdown of the questions/variables by source or time period (year). As mentioned before, the source filter will show you matches from the Harmonized Data collection, as well as from any HRS family survey, wherever a matching question was found. Clicking on the source filter will reveal the breakdown of the results by specific questionnaire (or harmonized dataset). Clicking on the survey filter will reveal the component module filters of a survey (or harmonized dataset), to which the matching questions belong. Since the survey wave already corresponds to a particular time period, the year filter is enabled only when looking at harmonized dataset results. With this resource, we aim to provide researchers with an efficient way to search content across the international family of HRS surveys. We hope you are able to take advantage of this tool to discover variables and survey questions relevant to your research purposes. If you have further questions about this search functionality tool, email our help desk and we will be happy to assist!

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