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Research Foundations: Modify Your Search

Modifying Your Search

Even while employing the best search strategies, you still might strike out on your first search efforts. And that's OK. It's quite common to search multiple databases, or to craft several unique search statements, in order to home in on the best research for your project. This section briefly offers suggestions to combat different situations that may arise in your article searching.  

Too Many Results

Your topic or research question could potentially be too broad, returning a large number of irrelevant results. Since most topics involve multiple aspects and different contexts, you may need to narrow your topic to find acceptable resources. When narrowing a topic, make sure your new search still reflects the main idea.

Here are some techniques to help narrow your topic.

Technique Description Search Example Less Results
Add a Focus Too broad of a topic will retrieve too many results. Add a focus to reduce the number. “oil wells” AND construction “oil wells” AND construction AND Texas
Use Boolean Term NOT Excluding a keyword or phrase from searching will remove any articles referring to that topic. ethics AND “alternative medicine” ethics AND “alternative medicine” NOT acupuncture
Add Keywords The more keywords you add, the fewer results you will get. “rap music” “rap music” AND gender

Too Few Results

If you returned too few results, your topic or research question could be too narrow or specific to find enough information. You may need to broaden your topic to find acceptable resources.

Here are some techniques to help broaden your topic.

Technique Description Search Example More Results
Check Spelling Unlike many search engines, databases will not correct a misspelled word. “intrest rates” AND inflation “interest rates” AND inflation
Reduce Keywords The more keywords you have, the lower number of results you will retrieve. bees AND honey AND pollination AND food AND Florida bees AND pollination AND food
Try Synonyms Replace keywords with different words that have the same or similar meaning. females AND “relationship abuse” women AND “relationship abuse”
Try Related Terms Use keywords that are related to your topic, but not exactly the same. universities AND “academic achievement” “higher education” AND “academic achievement”
Add Boolean Term OR Add OR between synonyms or related terms to expand results. advertising AND children advertising AND children OR teenagers
Change the Focus Too narrow of a focus will produce fewer results. “Seminole County” AND habitat AND “black bears” Florida AND habitat AND “black bears”


Switch Databases

Different databases specialize in different areas. If you are finding too few results, it could be that this database does not have the right specialization. Refer back to Choosing a Database for help finding a better database to suit your research needs.