Narrowing your search

So, you’ve worked with a librarian to string together a long chain of terms and your search returned 200,000 articles. What do you do now?

If your search returns too many records and you don’t have time or resources to screen them all, you can try the following:

1. Add filters
Your database will have a series of filters you can use to narrow your search. Start by filtering your results by study type. If you are going to limit to certain study types, be sure to specify this in your protocol. Other filters that may work are publication date, age or gender of participants, and English language. Be aware that any of these can bias your search, depending on your research question and parameters.

2. Look for terms that might be exploding the search
Keep in mind that words can “explode” or expand your search results because they have multiple meanings. A good example is the term “AIDS.” If you search for this term, you will get every abstract that includes the verb “aids”, which will lead to a lot of irrelevant citations.

3. Identify what you don’t want
If you have to, look at your results and see if there are any patterns of populations or terms you don’t want (e.g. pregnant women). Then add them to your search using “NOT” VERY CAREFULLY.

What if the reverse problem happens – you carefully design your search and only come up with 50 articles?