3. Effective Database Searches

Modifying a Search: Limiting or Expanding

video View a video demo on Improving Searches (flash file)

Limiting a Search

If your search still turns up too many results, you can always add more keywords with AND. You can also use the database's limit features. Many databases offer the following limits:

  • Date range: Choose a subset of years to restrict your search to a certain time period.
  • Language: Return only articles written in English (or another language if you prefer).
  • Peer-reviewed/Refereed: These terms mean the same thing—that the article had to be reviewed by someone knowledgeable in the field before it could be published. Some journals require this kind of review while others don't, so checking this box would reduce the number of results. (See Types of Articles for more information about this concept.)
There may be other limits available; databases vary, but their Help pages will explain the options you have.

Expanding a Search

If your search yields too few results, there are a few things to try:

  • Remove some keywords: Perhaps you were too specific. If you had four terms connected with ANDs, take one term away and see if you get more results.
  • Think of more synonyms: Maybe this database doesn't use the term you supplied, but a different term for the same thing. For example, if car didn't work, try auto, automobile, or vehicle—or maybe all of them, connected with ORs. A thesaurus may help you determine other words to try.
  • Add more wildcards: For instance, instead of respiratory, try respir* so that you'll also get results containing respirator, respiration, etc. Remember, though, not to cut off the word too short! Res* would be a bad choice here because too many words begin with those letters.
  • Choose a different database: Maybe the database you started with isn't the best choice for your particular topic. Another database might have many more articles.

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