Skip to Main Content

Skills at Library Essentials

Guides to search skills and using library research resources

Too many results?

Too many results: what can you do about it?

If you've ever used a search engine and got millions of results, you will know just how much information is out there. If it's just an everyday search you can usually find what you're looking for regardless, but when you're doing academic research it's not always so simple.

If you're getting an unmanageable amount of results, or the results you're getting aren't relevant to your topic, there are a few techniques you can try. 

These techniques are discussed in more detail on the "Top search tips" and "Using advanced search pages" if you want to learn more. 

Phrase searching

If you have any concepts in your search which are made up of more than one word, keep them together with phrase searching. Just put quotation marks around the words you want to keep together.

For example: "social media", "coronary heart disease", "organisational development" and so on. 

Add keywords with AND

The more keywords you add using the Boolean operator AND, the fewer results you will get, as your results will have to include all of your keywords. 

For example, "social media" AND "fake news" will return fewer results than searches for these topics individually, as they must both appear in the results. 

Exclude keywords with NOT

If there are irrelevant results coming up regularly on an unrelated topic, try excluding words with the NOT operator. 

For example, if you want to search for information about fish, but only those living in freshwater, you can exclude saltwater from your search: fish NOT saltwater. 

Field searching

In most databases the advanced search allows you to search for your keywords within a specific field, such as title, author or abstract. 

If you're finding too many results, try restricting one or more of your keywords so they have to appear in, for example, the title of any results. 

Restrict your results using advanced search

There are usually other ways to filter or restrict your results in the advanced search options. For example you could restrict your results to a specific date range (e.g. last 5 or 10 years), document type (journal articles) or language. Depending on the database there may be other options available. 

Trial and error

Try one or a combination of the techniques above and see what happens to your results. You may find that if you restrict your search too far, you won't find enough results, but you can then remove some restrictions to expand the search again. Searching is often a process of trial and error, just remember to keep a record of what you've tried and don't give up! If you still can't find the results you need, get in touch with us for more help.