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How do I: improve my search?

Improving your search

How you improve your search depends on what you are looking for and where you are in the research process.  Keep in mind that the process is hardly ever straightforward or easy!  Are you looking for books and can't find anything worthwhile?  Are you looking for journal articles and can't pin down something relevant?  Maybe you've found way too much of everything and you are feeling overwhelmed.  Sometimes the only thing you know for certain is you need help!

Let's take 2 scenarios - 

"I am not happy with the books and articles I've found.  What else can I do?" 

1.  Investigate - the vocabulary of the field you are searching and identify different terms! Maybe the terms you have in your brain are not the terms that most scholars use in their research.  Many of the databases (eg. ERIC, Business Source Premier, WPSA) include thesauri to guide you to other terms; look for a link labeled "Thesaurus" or review the HELP. Don't forget to use reference tools like encyclopedias for background information; jot down the various concepts.  Consult a dictionary to find related terminology.  Ask your professor for ideas.  Ask your librarian.

2.  Use - the Advanced Search option.  Whether you are searching an online catalog for books or databases for articles, there are often 2 modes of searching; Basic & Advanced.  Advanced gives you the most control.  Familiarize yourself with the HELP features that explain how to limit or expand your search, for example, by language or date.  Modify the way your search results are displayed by using the SORT feature.

3.  Review - the parameters of the database you are searching when looking for journal or newspaper articlesAre you in the right place? Is the subject matter relevant?  The database you used for your biology paper may not be the best database for your economics paper.  Is the date range covering the date range you need? 

4.  Expand - the number of sources you search.  Search more than one database!  Search more than one online catalog! Ask your librarian for additional resources to search.

5.  Master - your search techniques: Boolean Operators, Wild Cards, Truncation, Nesting, Field searching, Use of Subject Headings. 


"I've tried it on my own and I am stuck!  I hate doing research.  I'm just not good at it!"

If you have started your research, done all you can think to do and you are still unhappy with your results, it is probably time to schedule an appointment with a reference librarian. 

To make the most of your appointment it is critical that you NOT wait until the last minute and that you come to your consultation prepared.  Prepared means you:

  • understand your assignment. Seek clarification from professor if necessary.
  • are able to share with the librarian the steps you have already taken.
  • are open to the suggestions and ideas presented to you. 


Call, email, text or stop by the Research Assistance desk to schedule a consultation.