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Understanding the search screen

Applying your search correctly to databases and search tools is critical to finding relevant literature. Search interfaces will look different but often have similar search functionality and features.

Example question: Does the general public support the use of quotas as a strategy to get more women into parliament?

Scopus search example:

Top search tips

Many databases and search tools have a range of search tricks (functions) which can help you search more effectively and efficiently.

Below are some of the key ones to be aware of.


Applying the same search across many different databases?

This may require you to adapt your search as search interfaces and functions may vary slightly between databases. Always check the help pages for each database.

For more help:

Apply limits

Many databases will have limits which you can use to you help narrow your results.

Some common limits to consider:

  • Scholarly or peer reviewed journals - find quality publications but be cautious as you may exclude valuable publications like reports or conference papers.
  • Date range - find recent publications but be cautious as you may miss seminal publications.
  • Geographic location - find publications from certain countries like Australia.
  • Publication source - use to identify key journals or conferences.
  • Publication type - find publications by format such as journals or books.
  • Subject - find publications by subjects supplied by the database.

Never limit to full text only as you will most likely miss relevant publications.

More sophisticated limits are available in some databases, like medical databases, allowing you to limit by age group or study design.

Hedges and filters are premade searches, many of which are verified, which you can incorporate into your search to help narrow it. Learn more here:

Critically review

It is important that you take time to continually review your search and make improvements to it.

 Strategies to critically review your search
Note terms in your results

Are you finding new terminology? Can you incorporate these into your search?

Note number of results

Too many results? Add another concept to your search.

Remember this may be because a lot is already published in the area.

Very few results? Use broader terms or remove a concept.

There could be gaps in the research area and, thus not a lot published.

Test your search

If you are aware of key studies, make sure your search strategy finds them.

  • First check key studies are indexed in the database.
  • Then run your search and see if they appear in your results.

If the studies are not appearing ask yourself why?

Browse abstracts

Are you finding relevant studies? Are results appearing that you are not expecting? Why?