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How Do I… Narrow or Broaden My Search Results?

Getting too many search results?

You can narrow your search by…

  • Adding keywords/changing your keywords
    • The more keywords you use, the more specific your search will be. You can also try using more specific keywords. For example, rather than searching for Industrial Revolution Inventions, you would get fewer, more specific results by searching for Spinning Jenny or Cotton Gin.
  • AND, NOT
    • Connecting your keywords with AND will tell the search engine that you want both keywords represented in your results. Connecting your keywords with NOT will exclude terms from your results. For example, cotton gin AND child labor will make sure your results include both of those concepts. Cotton gin NOT alcohol will make sure your results do not include similar, but unrelated concepts.
  • “Quotation marks”
    • Putting quotation marks around your keywords tells the search engine that you are looking for that exact phrase, in that order. This works best with keywords that contain two or more words such as “Liverpool and Manchester Railway”.
  • Search limiters
    • Almost all library resources will have options for you to limit your search by things like publication date, type of resource, language, or availability.
  • Narrowing your topic
    • If you have tried all of the options above and you’re still getting too many results, you might think about narrowing your topic. Try answering questions like when, where, who and what regarding your topic to specify exactly what you’re looking for.

Not getting enough search results?

You can broaden your search by…

  • Taking away keywords/changing your keywords
    • Using fewer keywords will give you more search results. You can also try using less specific keywords. It can be helpful to start with a couple of keywords and look at your results list to see what keywords authors are using.
  • OR
    • Connecting your keywords with OR will tell the search engine that you are looking for either one keyword or the other. This can work really well for synonyms. Make sure to group your synonym keywords in parentheses to separate them from your other keywords. For example, child labor AND (textile factory OR textile mill).
  • Broadening your topic
    • If you have tried all of the options above and you’re still not getting any results, you might think about broadening your topic by focusing on a larger concept. For example, “How did Lewis Hine’s picture of 10-year-old Addie Card working in a Vermont Cotton Mill impact the child laborers of North Pownal, Vermont?” may be too specific, but “How did Lewis Hine’s investigative photography impact child labor laws?” might give you great results.

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