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Library DIY: Starting your Research

Getting too many results? Focus your search

Before you start modifying your search, go back and review Step 2: Choose a Topic, Step 3: Write a Research Question, and Step 4: Generate Keywords to be sure you have properly defined the scope of your search.


If you are confident in your topic, your question, and your set of keywords, then try these tricks:

1. Use search limiters/filters

The filters or limiters available will vary by database, but nearly all databases, including WISE, will have some filtering options.

Sidebar limiters "Social Sciences Full Text" Sidebar limiters "SCOPUS"

"Limit to: (options) full text, scholarly journals, PDF full text, publication dates, source types, subject, publisher, language.

Options include subject area, document type, publication stage, source title, keyword, affiliation, funding sponsor, country/territory. source type, language.

2. Sort by relevance

Some databases sort results by most recent, which may be helpful in some cases, but can mean that you never find the most relevant or useful results. Sort by “Relevance” or “Times Cited” when possible.

Search results in APAPsycNET for "academic achievement motivation teaching method" sorted by relevance. Relevance selected in top-right dropdown is highlighted with red box.


3. Search in subject-specific database

The number of resources in a large general database like Academic Search Complete can be overwhelming. These databases are great for those times when you need articles on a topic from the perspective of many different fields/disciplines, but many times, what you really need is a subject-specific database.

Use the filter options on the library's online resources page to find the database that works best for your subject. 

Library homepage with "Online resources" highlighted.

Online resources page; click "View all" to open the dropdown filter menu


If you aren't sure which of our online resources to use, contact John Garrison for help!

If you find that you aren't getting enough results, remove the limiters or filters on your search, move to a more general database, or go back and revise your topic, research question, or keywords - you have probably chosen a topic that is too narrow.