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Advanced Searching: Refining Your Search

Recalling too many results

Some keywords find too many results, because they are:

  • commonly used in natural language (the language of everyday writing and speaking) e.g. the word ‘labour’ can refer to work, a political party or childbirth, depending on context;
  • common in the database e.g. the word ‘advertising’ in the World Advertising Research Centre [WARC] database, or psychology in PsycINFO, will retrieve almost the entire database!

 There are strategies you can adopt to get round this.

Search for the term in a specific field (see In Field Searching)

Search for the word in a thesaurus (see Thesaurus Searching)

Search for the term as part of a phrase (see Phrase Searching)

In Field Searching

Databases place information into fields: author, title, abstract, etc.   Most databases will provide an option to search a set of default fields

You can search within fields to find chosen keywords,or in specific fields such as Author, Title or Abstract.These specific fields can be provided using a dropdown menu. So if you know an important researcher in your area you can chose to search only the author field

Phrase Searching

Some keywords are better expressed as phrases or strings of keywords together to improve the precision of your search.

 e.g. a search for social AND media will return nearly four times as many results as a search for “social media”.

 e.g. instead of ‘radar’ search for “ground penetrating radar”

Placing the phrase in inverted commas means you will search for the entire phrase, not just its component parts.

Other Limiters

Limiting by date

Most databases allow you to limit your results by date, for example, you can limit your search to only material published in the last five years or within a specific date range. 

Limiting by type of material

Most databases indicate the type of material being indexed, e.g. book, academic journal, periodical, news, report; and will allow you to limit to academic journal only. Beware of using this strategy, as whilst you will remove non peer reviewed articles and news reports you may also find that you are removing useful material such as peer reviewed conference papers. 

Peer Reviewed only

mySearch allows you to limit your search to ‘Peer Reviewed’ only, which is a useful method of eliminating non peer reviewed articles and news reports from your results.

Full Text

mySearch allows you to limit your search to ‘Full Text’ only, which produces a list of  search to results to which BU have subscription access to the full text.

Thesaurus Searching

Controlled vocabulary or thesauri are applied to individual database records by human indexers. The aim is to ensure that there is consistency across the database, so that articles that are substantially similar in content contain the same terms. The terms are entered in their own field – called the subject term or subject heading field – so that they can be searched separately. Thesauri are usually available online from the Search Interface. You might choose to prepare your search by checking the thesaurus for appropriate terms.

Common controlled vocabulary in searching are MeSH terms (Medical Subject Headings) or NAICS (North American Industry Classification System). A thesaurus will usually be structured with a Scope Note, and Broader, Narrower and Related Terms, as in the example below from Business Source Ultimate.

 EARLY retirement



Scope Note

Here are entered works on retiring from full-time employment before the official Social Security retirement age based on one's birth date, generally at a specified lower age at which one receives lower benefits; works on selecting an option in one's employer's retirement plan to allow retirement before the usual age, generally based on factors such as length of service; and also works on accepting an employer's offer to leave work before normal retirement age with a special incentives package, as a way for the company to reduce the number of employees. [EPC]

Broader Terms



Related Terms

 CORPORATE reorganizations



 DOWNSIZING of organizations



 EARLY retirement incentives



 EMPLOYEES -- Dismissal of



 INVOLUNTARY retirement



 MANDATORY retirement



 RETIREMENT benefits


    Used for