Answered By: Research Librarian
Last Updated: Aug 28, 2020     Views: 38

Refine Your Search

Too Many Search Results

  • Find better search terms or keywords. Try changing the keywords or terms. Brainstorming will be helpful for this. Think of terms that are more specific. 
  • Use more and more search terms. Each time you put in another search term with AND, you will retrieve fewer results. Start with a small number of keywords and then add more terms or try different terms based on your results.
  • Use limiters. Limiters such as date and resource type retrieve a targeted, results list. Do you need to only use scholarly peer-reviewed articles? Should your sources be fairly recent? In each database, look for the limiters that meet your criteria for your research.
  • Do not use ORMake sure you are not using OR between terms that mean different things; for example, women OR salaries. This search tool broadens your search by looking for either word rather than both, and should be used sparingly.
  • 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 your topic. Think about a more focused aspect of your topic or various angles of your topic.  If you are looking at gay soldiers in the US military, then examine changing attitudes towards sexuality, military culture, arguments against or for gay soldiers in combat units.


Too Few Search Results

  • Try a database on your topic. Search in a database that specializes in a certain subject. If you need a subject-specific database suggestion, try the Library Research Guides created by SUNY Geneseo librarians. You may have to try several different databases; be flexible and persistent.
  • Brainstorm search terms. Try changing the terms you use in your search. Brainstorming keywords will be helpful for this. Try replacing your search terms with a different term that essentially means the same thing; you may get a very different results list.
  • Use fewer search terms. Each time you put in another search term with AND you will get fewer results. Start with a small number of keywords and then increase the number, or try different terms based on your results.
  • Use fewer limiters. Try using only those that are absolutely necessary. For instance, if your professor requires only scholarly peer-reviewed articles, limiting to peer-reviewed articles would be essential. Limiters such as date and resource type give you a more targeted results list, but sometimes you can use so many that you end up with zero results. 
  • Broaden your topic. You may need to think more broadly about your topic. For example, if you are researching the impact of "Basque terrorism" and a specific town in Spain, you might broaden your search to just look at "Basque terrorism." Also, you may need to break your topic into different parts and search them separately (the Basque separatist movement than the demographics of the Spanish town), then interpret and combine the information yourself.