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Self-study material for information searches: Evaluating and refining the search

Evaluating and refining the search

Information searches are an on-going process. It is not easy to find the right terms at once. 

You can continue the search by taking into consideration the retrieved search results. Refine the search terms according to the subject terms in the references found. After trying several search terms, fields and connectors, you will find out how many results each of them or their combination retrieved. Browse the retrieved references to evaluate the relevance of the found documents. If the result is not satisfactory, refine the search phrase to retrieve a suitable amount of relevant references.

Note! When you find a good reference, write down the subject terms in the description. When you find a good book or a good article, pay attention to its sources (bibliography).


Too few references?

  • Truncate the search term or truncate closer to the beginning of the term.
  • Add synonyms, related or broader concepts to the search phrase using OR connector.
  • Decrease terms connected with AND connector.
  • Instead of specific search terms, use more common words of natural language or broader terms from a thesaurus.
  • Search from all fields in the database (keyword search).
  • Broaden the search by language, year of publication or document type.

Too many references?

  • Link the search terms with narrowing AND connector.
  • Decrease the amount of related terms linked with OR connector.
  • Do not truncate the terms or alter the truncation so that the term is more specific.
  • Use specific words of natural language or terms from a thesaurus.
  • Check that you have not used ambiguous terms or abbreviations.
  • Limit the search only to title and subject fields.
  • Limit the search by language, publication year or document type.


New search: Why, when and how?

The result of the information search may sometimes be a surprise. The references found may not be relevant to the subject or you do not get any results. Sometimes the amount of references is so vast that it would take days to browse through them. In these cases, you may have to start the process from the beginning. Try specifying the concepts or conducting searches from different sources than the first time.

Rethink the search terms. The terms you used may be too broad (education -> musical education), and a search with a narrower term will produce a better search result. If there were too few or no results, use a broader term.

No references at all?

  • Check the spelling of the search term.
  • Consider more thoroughly how to describe the topic with the search terms. Many online public access catalogues allow you to browse the terms of indexed documents and thesauruses. You can select appropriate words from the index.
  • Consider the size and type of the database. In small databases, using many narrowing concepts such as the AND connector may exclude relevant references. In reference databases, using plural form of the search term instead of singular may help, because the terms in thesauruses are mainly in plural. Some terms have different meanings in singular and in plural. Therefore, when seeking information on the opera, think whether it is the opera as an art form (singular) or opera as a piece of art (plural) you are interested in.
  • Check that you used the correct search field. Try searching with keywords instead.
  • Check if you have used connectors incorrectly, or in a way not supported by the search engine.
  • Check if the database you are using covers your field of study. The online catalogues of the biggest universities are good and free of charge multidisciplinary sources for printed research publications.