Sometimes, as you move through the research process, you'll find that your research question is either too narrow or too broad. When a question is too narrow, it often means that you have trouble finding enough resources to answer the question. When a question is too broad, you find a lot but the majority of resources aren't related to the research question.
In order to narrow a research question that is too broad, try one or more of the following:
- Add another keyword to your search. The more keywords that you add to a search, the more specific your search parameters, the less results you will receive.
- Add quotation marks around a phrase. For example, search for "climate change" with the quotation marks included. The quotation marks tell the database to only show you resources where those words show up next to each other in that order. This can help make sure the results really relate to your research question and don't go too far off topic.
- Use filters. Most databases have them, though they can appear in different places (the left-hand side, right-hand side, along the top, etc.). Filters can narrow results by source type (journal article, book, newspaper article, etc.), publication date, subject, research methodology, and more.
In order to broaden a research question that is too narrow, try one or more of the following:
- Remove keywords from your search. The more keywords you include, the less results you get. So, look at the keywords you're using and remove the one that you think is least important. You might find this is exactly what you need to improve search results.
- Try synonyms. Very often, there are multiple words you can use to get at the same idea. For example, you could search for a 'heart attack', or you can use the medical term 'myocardial infarction'. Maybe you're in a 'marketing' class, but really you want to focus on 'advertising'. Synonyms can help you get different results, but if the alternate word is used more in research it could help yield larger search results.
- Try another database! Different databases have access to different sets of journals and other resources. You can use the same keywords in different databases and you should see resources not found in the databases you've already used.