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Search Databases Like a Pro: Search Tips

Database Search Tips

Too many results:

  • Start small! Begin with just one or a few search terms. Add additional terms if you have too many results.
  • Use good search terms - Use terms that are more specific. Do not use OR between terms that mean different things (for example, women OR salary).
  • Too few search terms - If you only have one general term in the search box, consider another word that expresses what about that term you are interested in. 
  • Use limiters - Limiters (such as date and format) give you more targeted results.
  • Topic is too broad - Narrow the scope of your search. Think about the different aspects of your topic you will address and search for them separately. Then synthesize the information. You may need to narrow your topic if it is too large to cover in a short paper. 

Too few results:

  • Is this the best database for your topic? If you are using a subject-specific database (education, psychology, etc.), try a multidisciplinary database like Academic Search or a specialized search engine like Google Scholar. Be prepared to try several different databases. If you need a subject-specific database, try our Research Guides
  • Use good search terms - Check spelling, and brainstorm synonyms or related terms. You can use OR between synonyms (for example salary OR pay OR compensation).
  • Too many search terms - If you have three or more search terms, try removing one to see if your results improve.
  • Too many limiters - Use only limiters that are absolutely necessary.
  • Your topic is too narrow - What is the broader theme of your topic? Break your topic down and search for different parts separately. Then synthesize the information you find.

Web Search Tips

Keep it simple! Start by typing the name of a relevant thing, place, or concept.

  • [puppy training tips]
  • [london dinner cruise]

Add relevant words if you don't see what you want after doing a simple search.

  • First try: [puppy]
  • More precise: [puppy training]
  • Even more precise: [dalmatian puppy  training class]

It may take several attempts to find the right words to describe your search.

Try words that a website would use to describe what you're looking for.

  • Not ideal: [my head hurts]
  • Not ideal: [why is my head killing me]
  • Better: [headache]

Use only the important words.Too many words will limit your results.

Not ideal: [country where bats are an omen of good luck]
Better: [bats good luck]


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