24 Examine Results

Search Strategies: Examine Results

Once you have created a search string for your topic, try it out in a search tool and examine your results.

  • Did you get what you expected?
  • Too many results? Too few?
  • Not the right information?

Designing a good search string can be extremely helpful but even the best strategy can fail depending on the topic, search tool, and keywords used. At this point determine where your strategy succeeded or failed and refine your search string by using one (or more) of these strategies:

  • Try different keywords from your list or new words that you saw in your results.
  • Eliminate keywords to broaden your search.
  • Add keywords to narrow your search.
  • Use the built-in limiting features available in most search tools.

In addition to refinements, most search tools will also allow you to limit your results by:

  • Date
  • Language
  • Resource type (book, article, film, etc.)
  • Intended audience (scholarly, trade, popular)
  • Human or animal (for medical research)
  • Subject headings (specific tags assigned to items within a given search tool)

Try a combination of search strategy revisions and database limiters to arrive at a better set of results. Keep a record of your results. (21)


Read the questions below and select the best answer.

1. Eric wants information on who should have priority for flu vaccinations if there is a vaccine shortage. He searched: flu vaccine shortage, but the results focused on why and how shortages occur, not who should get the vaccine. How should he edit his search to get better results?

  1. Use an asterisk with vaccin* to find different word endingsIncorrect! Eric has already found information on flu vaccines, so truncating the keyword vaccine would not get him any closer to the information on who should get them during a shortage.
  2. Add a keyword to narrow the results: priorityCorrect! Adding the keyword priority will help narrow down Eric’s results to help him find information on whom should be given vaccination priority during a shortage.
  3. Add a synonym to broaden the results: (flu or influenza)Incorrect! Eric has already found information on vaccines, so broadening his search around the keyword flu would not get him any closer to the information on who should get vaccines during a shortage.
  4. Add a keyword to narrow the results: pregnantIncorrect! Although pregnant women might be a priority group to receive vaccines during a shortage, they might not be the only group to consider. Adding the keyword pregnant would narrow the results too much.

2. Which is the best-designed search string, based on the following research question? “Did increased airport screening reduce the spread of H1N1, also known as Swine Flu?”

  1. (h1n1 OR “swine flu”) AND “airport screening”Correct! H1N1 and Swine Flu are the same thing so using the OR operator within parentheses will tell the search tool that either term is acceptable.
  2. airport screening AND h1n1 OR swine fluIncorrect! Airport screening and swine flu are phrases so they need quotation marks to tell the search tool to search for them as concepts.
  3. airport screening OR swine flu OR h1n1Incorrect! Since airport screening is followed by the OR operator, airport screening of any kind will be in the results.
  4. screening OR airport AND h1n1Incorrect! The OR operator separating screening and airport will be interpreted by the search tool as: screening OR airport. The OR operator should be an AND operator.

3. What is the best-designed search string for the following research question? “Are we prepared for a world-wide 21 st century influenza pandemic?”

  1. world-wide AND influenza OR pandemicIncorrect! This strategy would find items on influenza occurring world-wide but then also find items on any type of pandemic disease, not just influenza.
  2. flu pandemic AND 21 st centuryIncorrect! The search tool would search for everything flu AND everything pandemic whether that word is close to the word flu in the document or not.
  3. (“influenza pandemic” OR “pandemic flu”) AND “Global preparedness” AND “21 st century”Correct! This strategy would find items on influenza occurring world-wide .
  4. (global OR worldwide) AND flu (21)Incorrect! This strategy will retrieve very broad results on any topic that concerns flu globally or world-wide from any time period.


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