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Search Tips: Refining Your Results

Improve your searches using these basic search tips.

Too many results? Narrow your search.

  1. Add additional keywords
    • In databases, subject terms can help you identify more narrow topics and keywords.
  2. Choose more narrow search terms
    • Example:
    • Broader term: law
    • Narrower term: environmental law
  3. Use limiters
    • These are things like search fields (title or abstract), publication date, and format type.
  4. Search for a short phrase with quotation marks
    • Example:
    • “environmental law”
    • “environmental justice”

What is a subject term?
Subject terms describe what a work is about. Every item in a database is assigned one or more subject terms. Subject terms can help you identify effective keywords. Most databases list subjects in their search results.


Too few results? Broaden your search.

  1. Choice of Search Terms
    • Choosing the right search terms is key.
    • Experiment with related terms.
    • In databases, subject terms can help you identify keywords.
    • Use OR to search for multiple related terms at the same time (e.g. policy OR law).
  2. Too Many Search Terms
    • Databases can be picky about search terms. Be selective.
    • Begin with one or two search terms that best represent your topic. Then add other terms as needed.
    • Avoid long phrases and empty words like "the" and "how."
  3. Too Many Limiters
    • If you limited the search ( date or search field), remove the limiters and reassess.
  4. Narrow Topic
    • For highly specific topics, you may locate sources on a broader related topic.
    • Examples:
    • Narrow search: Bloomington Indiana AND environmental policy
    • Broader search: United States AND state government AND environmental policy
  5. Database Choice
    • Different databases focus on different topics. Try the "Articles& Databases'' linked on the library homepage to view resources ford different subjects.