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People usually fall into two categories when they're having trouble with their searches -- they're either finding too much information and are overwhelmed with irrelevant search results, or they are finding too little. Both can be very frustrating!
Realistically, your first search(es) may not be your best. Searching is a bit of trial and error, figuring out what search words bring back results you are happy with.
What to try when you're finding little to nothing on your topic:
- Try expanding your search topic.
By this I mean think about your topic more broadly. For example, let's say you're looking for literature on superstitions regarding Friday the 13th. If you're not coming up with much related to this day, perhaps you need to look more broadly at superstitions around the number 13 in general, and why it's considered to be so unlucky. Example: (superstition OR superstitious) AND (13 OR thirteen)
- Try expanding your search by incorporating synonyms into your search.
If there are other words that have similar meaning, or slightly different spelling, add them to your search using OR. Example: (superstition OR superstitious) AND ("friday the 13th" OR "number 13" OR "number thirteen")
- Speaking of different spelling...
If you want to search for the same word but with various spellings, instead of writing all the variations out into your search, you can use a truncation (*) or wildcard (?) symbols as placeholders to represent various spellings. What this will do is tell the database to search for all. Example: wom?n will search for women or woman; behavi?r will search for behavior or behaviour; superstiti* will search for superstition, superstitions, superstitious, etc.
What to try when you're finding way too much, and most of it is irrelevant:
- Add additional, or more specific keywords to your search. This should help focus it a bit more.
- Try phrase searching.
If you're looking for a very specific phrase, then encapsulate it in quotation marks. This helps with search precision, and reduces the amount of irrelevant (non-matching) results.
- Try some of the search filters.
Most databases have some search filters you can use to help narrow your search. Some of the more common ones are date range filters or scholarly (peer-reviewed) filters. PsycINFO has a great selection of search filters. The ones I particularly like to use are the population group, age group, or methodology filters (depending on what I'm searching for).