Techniques to Narrow a Search

Techniques to Narrow a Search

Conducting an effective review of literature requires one to search and identify the most relevant articles on the topic under investigation. The importance of an effective search, as highlighted by Timmins and McCabe (2005), include helping one to develop a clear research question or hypothesis, unveil whether one’s research question has been studied previously, and get a comprehensive knowledge on the topic and associated research methods. To narrow down a search various strategies may be used. The strategy of combining various keywords into a Boolean phrase and limiting such keywords to particular sections of the articles to be returned and a second strategy of limiting the publication year are considered in this paper.

In the first strategy, limiting the Boolean phrase to particular sections of the article has the advantage that most of the results returned will be relevant to the study. In this respect, synonyms can be joined through operators such as “OR” while keywords not needed to be included in the search can be excluded using the operator “NOT.” By limiting such a search to articles’ sections such as title or abstract, one is likely to get only studies that are relevant to the topic. However, a disadvantage of this is that where researchers have not titled relevant studies appropriately, using this method may eliminate such studies and thus miss out on studies that could be helpful.  A second strategy is limiting the year of publication to recent years. This strategy would ensure that only studies with current evidence are returned from the search. Whereas this strategy is advantageous when current evidence is needed, it may lead to exclusion of some primary studies that offer classical information on the subject. An example of such a case in nursing would be when evaluating nursing theories that were proposed years ago. In such cases, even the current studies are likely to cite earlier studies. This would prompt one to look for such earlier studies to get the primary evidence that had led to the formulation of the theory.

In my search, though I will use both approaches, I believe that the strategy to limit the Boolean phrase to specific sections of the paper will be more effective.  This is because by limiting the searches to such fields as the title, I will get results that are more relevant to my topic. From these results, I can then select the ones that are more recent and scan their reference sections to identify further studies that I might need to look for. This way, I believe I will be able to finally come up with a set of studies that will offer comprehensive and most relevant information on my topic.



Timmins, F., & McCabe, C. (2005). How to conduct an effective literature search. Nursing Standard, 20(11), 41-47.



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