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Search and evaluate success

Improving search results

Refine your search results and find the most relevant resources using our guidance.

A student works on a laptop.

You have created your search, but now you have too many results - or too few. Refine your results with our advice.

Finding appropriate results

If your search has produced results that aren't relevant to your question, try the following:

  • Think of alternate search terms with the same meaning and try a search using those. For example, 'higher education' instead of 'university'.
  • Try a concept that is wider than your original choice. For example, 'primary education' instead of 'Key Stage 1', or 'media' instead of 'television'.
  • Choose a smaller number of keywords from your question, instead of searching all the terms at once. For example, 'petrol tax car use' instead of 'the impact of higher petrol taxes on annual car mileage'.
  • Change the search tool you are using. A different tool could yield more relevant results.

Reducing number of results

You may find that your search has produced too many results and it is difficult to find what you need. Try the following:

  • Make sure your search tool is ranking the most relevant results first. If the tool doesn't have this as a default setting, you can change the settings yourself.
  • Add more keywords to your search to make it more specific, if your question requires detail. For example, add a population group such as 'children', or a country or location.
  • Check the dates of the results. You can filter results to include recent publications only, or rank results by most recent first.

Search shortcuts

Remember that search tools can be literal and need to be told exactly what you mean. There are established shortcuts to help with this. Common shortcuts include:

  • Using an asterisk (*) at the end of a word stem will find any ending of that word. For example, searching the term 'learn*' will automatically find results for words like learners, learning, learned, and learnt.
  • Using a hashtag (#) in a word will find alternative spellings. For example, searching for 'col#r' will find results for both 'colour' and 'color'.
  • Using quotation marks around words will find results where they are used as a single term, not separately. For example, "higher education" or "global warming".

Search and Evaluate Success is based on SMILE by Imperial College, Loughborough University and the University of Worcester, modified by Library and Learning Services at York St John University. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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