Finding scientific information: The size of a search results list

The size of a search results list

The database and the search string affect the search result. Sometimes a search report can contain hundreds of references, none of which are relevant. On other occasions, a search may produce no results at all. In the latter case, one should rethink the search terms and how they are combined, the choice of databases and the search strategy

 

Too many unwanted, irrelevant references

Check list

Suggestions for improvements

More about the subject

Are the search terms too general?

Use narrower concepts, more specific terms, a phrase search etc. Check how search terms and phrases are used in the database you are using

Refine your search using the Refine and Analyze tools offered by the database.

Search terms

Combining search terms

Evaluating search results and continuing a search

Is the search mode too general?

Get to know the search alternatives offered by the database.

A quick search rarely allows refining or focusing a search. Focusing a search on all fields (using All fields / Anywhere) gives hits about where the author works, the name of the journal, publisher or conference or sometimes even about the bibliography or full-text of a reference. This increases both the size of the search results and the number of irrelevant references.

Performing an information search in databases

Does the search strategy work as you intended?

Make sure that the program implements your search string correctly. For example, does it combine alternative expressions with the OR operator and restrict terms with the AND operator?

Consider a proximity operator or even a phrase search instead of AND -operator.

The order of the search boxes and implementing the operators varies somewhat from one database to another.

Combining search terms

Performing an information search in databases

Does the search utilize the search techniques available in the database?

Make use of the search properties and special characteristics of the database. For example, focus the search on descriptors or the title, or restrict the search to scientific refereed /peer reviewed articles only. You should also check the use of truncation symbols; too early truncation of search terms might increase the number of references quite dramatically.

Make use of the tools offered by the database for continuing or refining your search.

Truncation of search terms

Focusing a search on search fields

Evaluating search results and continuing a search

Is the database suitable for your topic?

Check the Subject Guide for the databases of your discipline. If you are using an extensive, multi-disciplinary database, does it offer the function of restricting the search to a subject area?

Choosing sources for an information search

Too few or no references at all

Check list

Suggestions for improvements

More about the subject

Are your search terms too narrow or have you used only a limited number of terms and expressions when describing the topic?

Use a wider concept. Look for more search terms from the relevant articles already found, from Wikipedia etc. Check, for example, what descriptor is used by the database for a particular concept.

Search terms

Does your search strategy work in the way you intended?

Check that you have combined alternative expressions with the OR operator, and cut down on combining words with the AND operator. Consider a proximity operator instead of a phrase search.

Combining search terms

Performing an information search in databases

Does your search utilize the search techniques available in the database?

Check that you have run the search in the correct fields. Use an Any Word search instead of a descriptor search. Make sure that different conjugations of the words are included in the search - depending on the database, either a truncation symbol is used, or the program recognises certain basic conjugation forms automatically. Check spelling errors.

Focusing a search on search fields

Truncation of search terms

Is the database suitable for the topic?

Usually the descriptions of the databases offer a good picture of their content. When looking for suitable databases, it is often also advisable to run test searches in order to see which databases contain most references. Check the Subject Guide for the databases of your discipline. In Nelli, the databases have been classified according to subject category.

Choosing sources for an information search