Narrowing or broadening search results

Too many search results

  • Search on different aspects of your topic. Try thinking about the specific aspects of your topic that you plan to cover in your paper and search for them separately. Then synthesize the information from different sources. There is rarely just one paper that will cover everything you are also trying to cover in your paper!
  • Use more search terms. Start with a small number of keywords and then add more terms or try different or more specific terms based on your results. Each time you put in another search term, you will get fewer results.
  • Use limiters. Limiters such as date and resource type retrieve a targeted results list and will help you narrow down your search. For example, you may be able to limit your search to scholarly, peer-reviewed articles or to articles published within the past 5 years.
  • Do not use OR. Make sure you are not using OR between terms that mean different things; for example, women OR salaries. This search connector broadens your search by looking for either word rather than both, and should be used sparingly. You can use AND to narrow results down to those that contain both words rather than one or the other.
  • Notice the default search options. By default, most databases search in the title, author field, abstract, and subject terms associated with the article. Experiment with searching in just the title or subject field in order to get more targeted results.
  • Narrow down the topic itself. Think about a more focused aspect of your topic or various angles of your topic. For example, if you are looking at the topic of refugees from war-torn countries, you may want to search for information on refugees from particular countries, education for refugee children, or refugees and post-traumatic stress.

Too few search results

  • Try a database on your topic. Search in a database that specializes in a certain subject. If you need a database suggestion, try the Subject Guide for your field. You may have to try several different databases; be flexible and persistent.
  • Broaden your topic. You may need to think more broadly about your topic. Think about the broader issues or subjects that your topic relates to and try searching for those. For example, if you are researching the impact of "Basque terrorism" and a specific town in Spain, you might broaden your search. Break your topic into different parts and search them separately (e.g., the Basque separatist movement and then the demographics of the Spanish town), and then interpret and combine the information yourself.
  • Change your search terms. Replace the terms you use in your search with similar or related terms. Brainstorming keywords will be helpful for this.
  • Use fewer search terms. Each time you put in another search term you will get fewer results. Start with a small number of keywords and then increase the number, or use OR to look for some keywords but not all at the same time.
  • Use fewer limiters. Try using only limiters that are absolutely necessary. For instance, if your professor requires only scholarly, peer-reviewed articles, use the limiter for peer-reviewed articles but nothing more.