Refining your search

This resource will help you to refine your searches on a particular topic.

Why refine a search?

It's common to get too many results or results that are not quite relevant when searching for information. Knowing how to refine your search can really help you find the results you actually need, and save you time

Refining your search

When refining search results think about:

Varying your search words

Re-evaluate the search words your using. Some general tips include:

  • Thinking about different ways of describing your topic. Could the information you need be described using different words? Think about synonyms, for example using the word 'adolescent' instead of 'teenager'. Is there another way to spell the word (i.e. American vs British spellings)?
  • Look for clues in the results. How do the authors in the sources you've found describe their research? The words they use might be valuable search words.
  • Experiment with alternative combinations of search words. All of these searches shown below will get a slightly different set of results, even though they are searching for the same thing: Example one: teenager AND 'mobile phone'
    Example two: 'high school students' AND 'mobile phone' AND australia
    Example three: 'secondary school students' AND 'mobile phone' AND australia


Using limits or filters

Look for options to limit your results. Some common ways to filter or limit your results to make them more relevant or up to date include:

  • By publication date/year: to find the most up to date information, or a particular time period.
  • By source or content type: to limit to books, journal articles and more.
  • By academic, scholarly, peer reviewed or refereed publications: to limit to academic resources.
  • By subject headings: subject headings are used by databases to link related pieces of information together. Look for headings in catalogues and databases that describe your topic and use them to limit to the information most relevant to your topic.


Identifying the appropriate tools

Are you searching for information in the right place? Sometimes you've done everything you can, and it's time to look somewhere else. Ask for help if you're not sure about the tools you've tried. You don't want to miss information because you're using the wrong kind of tool for your needs. Take a look at our 'Tools to Find Information' resource to see what tools the Library has on offer.


Try again

Searching for information is a process and you won't always get it right the first time. Find ways to improve your results, change your search and try again until you are happy with what you have found.

Tips for success:

Further resources