Research skills

Search strategies

Improving a search

It is always worth trying several different searches to make sure you find a range of information. Even if your first attempt has found some relevant results, try some of your alternative terms to get a good overview of the literature.

Too few results

If your search has not found many results:

  • Try using fewer keywords or some of your general (broader) keywords. This should increase your results
  • Then try adding in keywords to narrow down your results to those that are relevant
  • Use truncation to find different word endings – sometimes just allowing for plurals can increase your results
  • Consider using full versions of words/phrases if you have used an acronym or abbreviation as your keyword.

Too many results 

If your search has found too many results or they aren’t relevant to your topic:

  • Try adding more keywords to your search to make it more focussed
  • If the resource you are searching allows, specify where your search terms are found e.g. in the title or the abstract. This should make the results more relevant.

For example, if you wanted to know how students support themselves through university, a search on finances may find a vast range of results but a search on student* and financ* and loan* may find fewer, more relevant results.