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COM 122 English Composition: Then Narrow Down

Basic research strategies all students should know.

Picking a Specific Database & Search Tips for Narrowing

EAGLEsearch and interdisciplinary databases are great for topic introduction, but can sometimes give you too many results or results that aren't exactly relevant to your topic. The next step is to narrow things down either by picking a specific database or by trying some advanced search techniques and a variety of keywords. This will get you from information overload to a more manageable and more targeted results list.

Databases by Degree

Individual databases are listed in Databases A to Z alphabetically. We have approximately 100 different databases and resources available! Don't get stuck trying to figure out which one to use, try the Databases by Degree list where you can select your program and see a list of core databases for that program. That way engineering majors don't have to wade through political science results, and vice versa. Search through the databases recommended in Databases by Degree and you'll get results specific to your major.

Using Keywords to Narrow

Keywords are the key to successful research! 

Use them to expand your searches by using synonyms:

  • Physical activity, exercise, workout, fitness

You can also get more specific with your keywords for fewer results:

  • Yoga, weight lifting, running

Or try using the scientific terms and the everyday terms:

  • Cardiac infarction vs. heart attack

Be sure to use a variety of keywords in different combinations, running new searches every time. That way you'll be much more likely to find research that uses related search terms, so you find articles no matter what language each author uses. For example, one author might write using the term global warming, and one author might call it global climate change.  

Advanced Search Techniques

Boolean Operators:

 AND, OR, NOT are used in a search to combine or exclude keywords, resulting in more focused and productive results. Using these should save time and effort by eliminating inappropriate hits that must be scanned before discarding.

  • AND Narrows a search by requiring at least one term from each concept be present in your search results.
  • OR   Broadens your search – either term (or both) will be in the returned documents. An easy way to remember it is, with OR you get more!
  • NOT  Search results will exclude these terms.

Other Search tips:

  • Use quotation marks for exact phrases or terms:  Using quotation marks around 2 or more words allows for searching of the exact phrase. Example: “death penalty”.
  • Truncation: An asterisk (*) can be used at the end of a root word. For example: Senat* will bring back any variation of the word, like Senate or Senator or Senators
  • Combine Boolean and Advanced Searching: Combining any Boolean searching and keywords can help you narrow down and make your search very specific.  An example of a combined search would be: “Global Warming” OR “Climate Change” AND “Environmental Law” NOT “United States”. Be careful adding too many terms and Boolean operators together. Your search can become too narrow and exclude valuable results (or not find any).  

Filters and Tools

Each database will have its own specific filters and tools, but most of them will have similarities. You might see the "Full Text" button or something similar – this can help you filter results to only include material that contains the full text content on an article. You can also narrow by source type, like the "Peer Reviewed" button you see here. Date is another common filter, and is really important if you are working on technology, science, or any topic that advances quickly.  


All databases will have citation tools too. Just look for the "Cite" button, which is sometimes represented by a quotation marks icon, depending on the database. Also, make sure to try out RefWorks, the library's citation management tool. It will save you so much time! 

Specialty Databases: Streaming Films

5Ws of Topic Narrowing