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Skills at Library Essentials

Guides to search skills and using library research resources

Too few results?

Too few results: what can you do about it?

Sometimes, you'll just not get any results at all when you search! Or, you may get very few, and not enough to use in your work, particularly if you're writing a literature review. 

If you're not getting many results for 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. 

Add alternative keywords with OR

The more keywords you add using the Boolean operator OR, the more results you will get. This is great when you have synonyms, alternative, acronyms and so on in your search. All of your alternative keywords will be searched for at once. 

For example, if you're researching the topic of social media in the UK you could also search for specific forms of social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.) and think of other ways of searching for UK, such as United Kingdom, Britain and so on. 

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 not finding enough results, check that you aren't restricting your search too much. Start by search all fields or full text, and you could then narrow down from there if you need to. 

Proximity searching

Proximity searching allows you to look for terms that may appear near each other in your results. This can be useful when you are looking for keywords that can be expressed in different ways. 

Usually, proximity operators will be a combination of a letter (N or W) or word (NEAR) and a number specifying the distance (number of words) between your search terms. 

For example, a search for 'election N5 reform' will find results that have up to 5 words between the two terms, so for example election reform and election procedure reform or reform of election law. 

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 expand your search too far, you will find too many results, but you can then limit 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. 

One problem may simply be that you're searching in the wrong place! Try another database (ideally one recommended in your Subject Guide for best results). Remember, you need to be looking in the right kind of database for the types of resource you want. For example, if you want to find cases and legislation, a legal database such as Westlaw and Lexis will be much more helpful than JSTOR.