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Library Services



LibrarySkills@UCL for NHS staff

A guide to information literacy and library skills for NHS staff from Trusts supported by UCL Library Services, to inform clinical practice, study and research.

Refining your search

If your search doesn't find the results you were hoping for, don't get disheartened! Searching is an iterative process - meaning you will need to revise and revisit your search a number of times to try to improve your results. This is an important part of the process.

One simple way to refine your search is to use limits or filters available in the database or resource you are using.

For some tips on how to refine and edit your search, see our page on how to improve your search.

Limits and filters

Limits or filters can be used to help you to focus your search. Common limits are criteria such as date range, language, or type of material.

Sometimes you can see limit options when you carry out your search, especially if using an Advanced search. More often, limits are available after you have carried out your search and can be applied to your results.

The type of limits available and how to use them varies - make sure you check the help pages for the resource you're using.

Apply limits one at a time, so you can see the effect they are having on your results. Using too many limits might narrow your results too much.

Take care when using limits

Limits can be an effective way to focus your search but there are some cases where you should be careful.

  • Full text: often databases will have a 'full text only' limit. Don't be tempted to select this option. Instead make sure you have accessed the database via the UCL web pages, and use the FindIt@UCL links to check for full text access.
  • Topic: using limits called 'subject area', 'category' or 'topic' can look appealing but it's not always easy to tell how subjects are defined - you might miss some relevant results.