How can I get fewer search results?


I’m often asked for help when students’ searches have too many results: this can be very overwhelming.  I have a few tips for avoiding or dealing with this problem, all of which I’ve dealt with in separate blog posts:

1. Presearch – make a plan before you start to research.  Get to know your topic, and think about what type of information you’re looking for.  Then think about where you can find that information: what type of resource is best for what you’re looking for? (Books, Journals?) If Summon doesn’t give you what you need, what database should you try?

2. Keywords – make a list of the words you’re going to try to search with.  Make a list of synonyms for these words, too.  And keep track of the ones you’ve tried in Summon or in different databases so you know which words work and which words don’t.

3. Use Boolean Operators – adding more concepts with “and”, especially when searching for journal articles, will help you reduce the number of results you get.  For example, searching just “diabetes” will get you way more results than searching “diabetes AND prevention AND diet”

4. Use Search Limits – you want to make your search results as perfect as you can.  There are tools to help you do this quickly!

As you’ve probably already discovered, research is time consuming.  But nothing is more frustrating than getting hundreds of sort-of helpful, but mostly useless results.  If you’re still stuck after trying the above, make sure to ask for help at the library desk!

Getting relevant results: Boolean operators


It’s impossible to get the most out of your search results without combining keywords, Boolean Operators and search tips – make sure to read all three blog posts!

Many databases require that you combine your keywords using Boolean operators (i.e. “AND” and “OR”) rather than just typing random words in like Google.

For this post, we’ll use the same example from the keywords blog post: I need to find information on the benefits of alternative treatments for type two diabetes (i.e. other than insulin). One of this alternative treatments is managing diabetes with your diet.

We use OR to combine the synonyms that we came up with (because we don’t care which word appears in the text). OR also broadens your search: use different OR words if you aren’t getting enough search results.

  • diabetes mellitus OR type two diabetes
  • diet OR nutrition therapy

We use AND to combine the different concepts from our topic. AND also narrows your search: use a few AND words if you’re getting too many results.

  • diabetes AND diet
  • diabetes mellitus AND nutrition therapy

Here’s an example of “and” using the library catalogue:

Boolean Operators 1

You can combine Boolean Operators too:

(diabetes mellitus OR type two diabetes) AND (diet OR nutrition therapy)

Boolean Operators 1

Knowing how Boolean Operators work is a helpful skill, whether you’re searching in academic databases, on government websites, or in the catalogue. Even Google uses them without you even knowing it!