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Library Research Tutorial

Refine Searches

Refine Search Results

After a preliminary search for materials, keep in mind that you have to be sure that you have explored your topic thoroughly, which often means revising your search strategies in order to be able to write competently about your topic.

It is likely that you will have to perform several advanced searches, as well as search in a few subject databases, in order to find the right sources to fulfill your assignment.

Limiters & Filters can help you to narrow down your search results so that they are focused on your research topic.

Refine Search Results Video:

Advanced Searching Tips


How to Narrow Search Results

  • Combine concepts with AND to find more relevant sources
    • picasso AND Africa
    • internet AND privacy
    • bedrock AND Massachusetts AND hydrology
  • Use “quotation marks” to find exact phrases
    • "rock art"
    • “African diaspora”
    • “invertible matrix”
  •  Use proximity searching* to find words near each other or within a specific number of words of each other
    • women NEAR violence
    • progressive NEAR/10 tax
    • "global warming" NEAR/20 "sea level"
    • tax N5 reform

*How to construct proximity searches varies from database to database. Check the database's help section to learn how to properly use it.


How to Broaden a Search

  • Use ORs and parentheses to combine synonyms or multiple topics
    • (oil OR petroleum OR crude)
    • (antibiotic OR antiviral)
    • (woman OR girl OR female)
  • Truncate roots of important words to find plurals and more
    • perform* (searches for perform, performance, performativity, etc.)
    • cell$
    • pregnan!
  • Insert a wild card symbol to catch words with different spellings
    • wom?n
    • coloni#ation
    • colo$r

*Truncation and wild cards work differently in different databases. Check the help section of the database to learn what symbol to use and how to properly use it.