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What if I can't find anything on my topic?

Library research can be frustrating, but remember that not finding results can also be meaningful. Perhaps your research question is too current or too local? Or perhaps you are not searching using the right library resource? Many times, though, simply modifying or rethinking just one part of your research question will solve the problem. Don’t give up! Talk to a librarian if you are stuck.

tip Tip: What do I do if I have too few results?
  • Use truncation when appropriate.
  • Replace long phrases with keywords.
  • Avoid using non-specific words such as: "issues," "effects," "results," "attitudes," "impact," "consequences," etc.
  • Consider using another database.
  • Add synonyms using OR.
  • Check for any spelling mistakes or typos.
  • Reconsider or broaden your topic.
tip Tip: What do I do if I have too many results?
  • Eliminate or check the placement of the truncation.
  • Add more search terms with AND.
  • Use quotation marks when searching for exact phrases
  • Filter results by date, language, document type, etc.
  • Limit the search to the title, subject or abstract field.
  • Group concepts together properly by using parentheses.
  • Consider other databases that may be more relevant.
librarian Librarian tip!

"When you pick your topic, it's not set in stone. Picking and adjusting your topic is an integral part of the research process!" (NCSU Libraries). Watch the NCSU Libraries video on how "messy" picking your topic and searching can be!

Picking Your Topic IS Research! [3:10 minutes] (NCSU Libraries) http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/picking_topic/
activity Activity - Give it a try!

For each example, identify the search statement that is most likely to provide the best results.

Congratulations! You did it!

Try again!

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page last updated on: Friday 5 July 2019
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