All of us, even the most experienced and skilled researchers, encounter challenges when we search for sources. Running into challenges is perfectly normal and part of the research process. Remember that research is not a straightforward, linear process. Instead, it requires experimentation and adjustments. Research is an art, not a science!
There are several challenges that researchers frequently come across in searching for sources. Here is a list of the most frequent challenges:
Here are some strategies you can use to overcome these challenges. You can try one strategy or multiple strategies. If one doesn’t work, try another!
Add or remove keywords you are using to search
If you have too many results, try adding more keywords, or more detailed keywords. This helps make your search more specific and gives you fewer results. You can also try different keywords, including synonyms for the keywords you originally used.
Perhaps you started your search with gardening programs in schools. Try adding keywords about the type of school or the type of program you are interested in. For example: gardening programs in elementary schools or after-school gardening programs. Or try synonyms: school gardens in K-12 education or urban farming with children.
If you have too few results, try using fewer keywords. This helps broaden your search and gives you more results. Again, using different keywords, including synonyms for the keywords you originally used, may also improve your search results.
Perhaps you started your search with gardening programs in elementary schools in Ward 7 in Washington, DC. There might be very few sources, or no sources at all, that are that specific. Try removing or replacing some of those keywords to make them more general. For example: gardening programs in elementary schools or gardening programs in urban schools.
Use some different search strategies or adjust the ones you are using.
Remember the power of quotation marks. If one or more of your search terms is a phrase or a concept that is expressed in more than one word, adding quotation marks around the phrase or concept tells the database to look for those words in exactly that order, rather than in scattered through in a source. That can help narrow your search results.
Rather than school gardens in elementary schools, try “school gardens” in “elementary schools”
Try adjusting the filters in your search results. If you have too many results, try adding filters to limit your results to a specific source type or date range. Or, if you have too few results and you are using filters, make them broader or remove them altogether.
Try a different database.
Different databases have different sources. If you are finding too many or too few results in a particular database, try another one. The A to Z Resource List contains the full list of databases that UDC students, faculty, and staff have access to.
Broaden or narrow your research question.
If you have too many results, your research question might be too broad. Think about how you can make it more specific. If your research question is What is the impact of climate change?, consider adding more details about the who, what, and where of climate change. Try doing a quick brainstorm to identify some possible details. For example:
If you integrate one or more of the whos, whats, or wheres that you brainstormed into your research question, you will end up with a narrower question.
If you have too few results, your research question might be too narrow. Think about how you can broaden it. Some of the details about the who, what, or where of your question might make your question too specific and you might not be able to find enough sources, if any. If your research question is What is the impact of climate change on cruise ship tourism in the Caribbean?, try What is the impact of climate change on Caribbean tourism?, or How is the cruise ship industry affected by climate change?
Request materials through Interlibrary Loan.
If the UDC Library does not have the full text of an article that you want to read, you can make an Interlibrary Loan request to request it from another library. The article will be emailed to you as a PDF. An Interlibrary Loan request may take several days to complete, so if you need a source right away, search for another similar article.
If you don’t have time for Interlibrary Loan, databases almost always have a filter that will limit your search results only to full text results—sources that you can immediately access the full text of—so if you are on a deadline, try using the full text filter.
Get help from a librarian!
UDC librarians are here to help! Librarians are available to help in person or via live chat during reference desk hours, or you can make an appointment to get help. You can also email the whole team of librarians at firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will respond soon.
Return to LRD homepage