Answered By: Erin Mooney
Last Updated: Jul 31, 2015     Views: 78

Why You Might Have too Many Search Results Why You Might Have too Few Search Results
You may not be using good search terms. Try changing up the terms you use in your search. Brainstorming keywords will be helpful for this. Think of terms that are more specific than those you originally used. Make sure you are not using OR between terms that mean different things, for example women OR salary.
 

You might have put in too few 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 add more terms or try different terms based on your results.

You might have used too few limiters. Limiters (such as date and format) give you a more targeted results list. Do you need to only use scholarly peer-reviewed articles? Should your sources be fairly recent? Most databases have ways to limit your results so you're getting just the type you want.

The default search options might not be working for you. 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.

Your topic might be too broad. You may need to search on a more focused aspect of your topic. Think about the various angles on your topic that you plan to cover in your paper and search for them separately. If you're looking at gay soldiers in the U.S. military, you can examine changing attitudes towards sexuality, military culture, arguments against or for gay soldiers in combat units.

You might not be searching in the best database for your topic. You may want to try searching in a database that specializes in a certain subject, because it includes more journals that might publish articles on your topic.  If you need a subject-specific database suggestion, try the Subject Guides created by our subject librarians. Be flexible and be prepared to try several different databses.

You may not be using good search terms. Try changing up the terms you use in your search. Brainstorming keywords will be helpful for this. Sometimes by just using a different term that essentially means the same thing, you'll get a very different results list.

You might have put in too many 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 add more terms or try different terms based on your results.

You might have used too many limiters. Limiters (such as date and format) give you a more targeted results list, but sometimes you can use so many that you end up with zero results. 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.

Your topic might be too narrow. You may need to think more broadly about your topic. For example, if you're researching the impact of Basque terrorism on a specific town in Spain, you might need to broaden your search to look at Basque terrorism more generally. Also, you may need to break your topic down and search for different parts separately (the Basque separatist movement and the demographics of the Spanish town you're interested in), then synthesize the information you found.

Thanks go to the Portland State University Library for sharing their Library DIY idea with us!

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