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Video Transcripts : How do I narrow my search?

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Have you tried searching for your topic and found an overwhelming number of results? This tutorial will show you a few strategies to focus and narrow your search, which should help you reduce the number of results you retrieve.

How do I narrow my Search? Title Slide
If your original search retrieved too much material, there are three places you can make changes to reduce the number of results you retrieve. You can adjust your search terms, you can try database filters, or you can try different databases. While most of the examples in this tutorial are from Scholar OneSearch, these strategies apply across databases.

One way to narrow your searches and make them more effective is to use quotation marks around phrases. In this example, the quotation marks around college students tell the database to look for an exact set of words, in that exact order. Without quotation marks a search for college students is interpreted by the database as a search for college AND students. The database looks for the words, but not necessarily together.

In this example, searching for college students with quotation marks in Scholar OneSearch retrieves just under two million results. This is a big reduction from the nearly eighteen million results we retrieved by searching for college students without quotes.

Snap shots of searches in Scholar OneSearch for "College Students" and College AND Students with the number of results.
Another way to narrow and focus your results is to use more specific words for the concepts you are searching. If your original search was for college students, you might try making that search term more specific to a particular subset of college students, like first generation college students, nontraditional college students, or international college students.

In this example, we searched Scholar OneSearch broadly for college students in quotation marks with nearly two million results. In our second example, we've made our search more specific by searching for first generation college students in quotation marks and reduce the results by over one point nine million.

Snap shots of searches in Scholar OneSearch for "College Students" and First Generation College Students with the number of results.
If you need to narrow and focus your results, you can also add new concepts to your topic and link them with AND. In this example, we have searched for first generation college students and added the new concept of internships. The Boolean operator AND is a helpful tool when you want to combine several different concepts.

In this example, a search for first generation college students in quotation marks retrieves over forty nine thousand results by adding internships as another search concept with AND. We have been able to narrow our search to focus on internships for first generation college students, which has about six thousand results.

Snap shots of searches in Scholar OneSearch for "First Generation College Students" and "First Generation College Students" AND Internships with the number of results.
A second strategy for narrowing your searches is to use database filters. You can typically find the filtering options to the left or right side of your search results. Each database has its own filtering options, but many filtering options are common across databases like the date source or material type and subject. Two quick ways to help narrow your searches in any database are to narrow by the date and source type. You can easily change the date in most databases to look for results from the last few years or to look at more historical results. If you're researching a topic that changes quickly, like health or technology, you'll want to focus on just the past few years of information. You can also limit the source type, generally by checking a box. Most databases have a peer reviewed or academic journal filter. You can also use subject terms to help you narrow your results. These are terms that describe the topic or focus of a publication. Look at the list of subjects for concepts relevant to your topic. You can select one or more of these subject terms to apply them to your search, helping to narrow it down further.

Example screen shots of filtering options in a variety of databases.
Some databases will automatically sort results for the newest documents first. You can choose to sort by relevance instead to get the closest matches to your search terms at the top of the list. This can be a helpful way to determine if your search terms are effective or need some adjustment.

Screenshot showing example sort by options in an EBSCO database.
If the database filters are not helping you to narrow your search enough, you may need to change the database you're searching. Using a subject specific database will give you a more targeted set of initial results, as well as more specialized filtering options that may allow you to reduce your search results even further. To find a list of specialized databases in your subject area, click on the Research Guides link on the library homepage to browse the full list of research guides. Then select the guide that matches your subject area. Each guide contains a list of recommended databases, often called key resources that you can use to find suggested, specialized subject specific resources.

Screen capture demonstrates how to get to a sample research guide from the library homepage.
In a psychology database, for example, you can look for filters like tests and measures or population in a business database. You can look through filters by company or industry. In a health sciences database you can look for filters related to age, gender or geography. Screen shots showing filters specific to different subject-specific databases. In all examples, these limiters appeared near the end of the limiter list.
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