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Develop a Search Strategy

How do I get better results?

Keywords may not be unique enough to narrow your search to relevant articles (even if you used Boolean operators), or they may be too specific, resulting in too few or even no results. Let's cover the most common issues you might encounter when running your first few searches and how to fix them.

refining search results
Tips on brainstorming your topic and refining and managing your search results.
refining search results
Learn some strategies for refining the scope of your research topic.

Too Many Results

The most common issue we experience with research is that the search returned too many results. Try some of these techniques to retrieve relevant articles about your topic.

Filter your results

Most of our databases, including the library search box, offer filters to help you narrow your results. The filters are usually located on the side of the results page and allow you to pick certain parameters like:

  • Date range
  • Publication (source) type
  • Peer-reviewed or scholarly publications
  • Subject terms (subject terms are standardized words that describe the main idea of the article)

Add more keywords

If your topic is too broad, you will be overwhelmed with too many results that are irrelevant to your research. Examples of broad topics that have been narrowed include:


  • Global warming → Global warming and carbon offsets
  • Health care in the United States → Health care in rural communities in the United States
  • Terrorism → The portrayal of terrorism by media outlets in the United States

Use the Advanced search

The Advanced search feature allows you to look for keywords in specific fields or sections of an article, like the title or abstract. If your keywords appear in the abstract, subject, or title fields, the article is most likely about the topic. These three fields are standard to almost all our databases.

Once you select the Advanced search, the database will display multiple search boxes in which you can add your topics, keywords, and phrases (tip: you may need to add more search boxes depending on the number of groupings your topic has). Group all your related keywords joined by the Boolean operator OR in parenthesis. For example:

(media OR newspaper OR broadcast) AND
(court case OR trial OR courtroom) AND
(affect OR effect OR influence)

Once you have separated your groupings of keywords, you can select the fields where you want those words to appear (usually from a drop-down menu next to the box row). You will most likely need to try different combinations and review the results they produce to find the most relevant articles.

Not Enough Results

Consider these remedies if you are not finding many (or any) resources.

Spelling counts

Check the spelling of your keywords. Unlike Google, which will offer alternatives when you misspell a word, the databases will only search for the terms you enter.

Check your search string

Are there any missing spaces or unclosed brackets? These types of mistakes will result in no results being found.

Remove search filters

If you added too many filters, there might not be sources that meet all your requirements.

Review your keywords and add synonyms

Are the keywords you are using representative of the industry or topic? For example, you could be searching for "vaccines," but other sources use the term "immunizations."

Broaden your topic

Examples of too-narrow topics that are broadened include:

  • Revenue for the limousine service industry in Waco, Texas → Revenue for the limousine service industry in the past five years
  • Health benefits of jazz → Health benefits of music
  • Economic forces of soldiers during the battle at the Alamo → Economic forces during the Texas Revolution

Spell out acronyms and abbreviations

They should be entered as an OR search in parentheses. For example:

  • (NCLB OR "No Child Left Behind")
  • (OCD OR "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder")
  • (USA OR "United States of America")

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