Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Jun 01, 2023     Views: 5086

Sometimes, a too-narrow focus can keep you from seeing relevant results. To broaden your search, take a mental step back from your research topic and look at the big picture.  


1. Use fewer keywords:  Using fewer keywords will give you more search results.  Identify only the most important terms from your topic and search for those. Look at your results list to see what keywords authors are using, and try those as well.

2. Use broader keywords: For each concept, think of umbrella terms (that is, broader terms that your original concepts will fit under).  Then, list broader terms for your broader terms...until you can't think of a more general way to describe them. 

  • It may help to first consult a thesaurus, or do a test search to find subject headings.
  • If there isn't really a broader term for one of your concepts, don't worry.  That concept probably isn't the one that's limiting your results.

3. Use synonyms. Think of similar or interchangeable terms for an important part of your topic. You can use the Boolean operator OR to search for all of those similar terms at once!  See an example here. 



Suppose our topic is:  How can using Facebook help online students learn?  We tried searching for Facebook AND online students AND learning, but didn't find as much as we needed.

So, we'll identify the major concepts and list broader terms for each (and then even broader terms).

 Original concepts:

Facebook online students  learning 

 Broader concepts:

social networking or social media college students or university students  

 Even broader  concepts:

discussion or engagement or interaction students




Then, we'll try searching with the broader concepts:  social networking AND college students AND learning

If those keywords still don't bring enough results, we can try some e even broader concepts (note that you can mix and match broader and narrower terms!):  social media AND students AND learning.




Broadening your topic:  If you have tried all of the options above and you’re still not getting any results, you might think about broadening your topic by focusing on a larger concept.   Sometimes a slightly broader topic is more interesting to read (and to write!) about, because it includes more points of view and examples.  Be sure to clear topic changes with your instructor.

But, even when your topic is very specific, there are times when searching broadly is useful:

  • Books are typically written on broad subjects, though they may include chapters or sections on very specific topics.  You'll need to search for books broadly, then look inside individual books for more specific topics.  
  • The same is sometimes true for websites.  A site devoted to higher education may well include a page or document about social networking in online classes, but you may have to search within the site to find it.

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