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Narrowing and Broadening Topic Specificity of Search Results: Home

This guide provides search strategies to retrieve information sources with varying levels of topic specificity. For example information could range from an article with an overview on the solar system planets to an article on just one planet.

Using the AND Operator to Increase Retrieval of Information with More Specific Topics

The AND Operator

The AND operator can help retrieve information items that have more concentration on a specific topic.  For example, a broad topic is the planet, Saturn.  A more specific topic is the atmosphere of Saturn.  On the advanced search page of a database, there will often be more than one search box.  A sample search with the AND operator would be to type a word in the top search box such as: Saturn.  Then in the second search box type: atmosphere.  Notice that the word, And, is located just to the left of the second search box.  This is the AND operator.  This will usually cause the database to retrieve information items that contain both terms in each item.  This search would look for information items that contain both of the words: Saturn and atmosphere.  An alternative method is to use one search box by typing the search as: Saturn AND atmosphere.  The database will implement the AND function when AND is typed in all capital letters.


The OR Operator

Individual topics can have multiple terms to describe them.  To retrieve more information items on an individual topic, the search process can be enhanced by typing synonyms in the search boxes.  For example, in a search for information about cars, the search terms could be: car, motorcar, auto, sedan, and automobile.  All these synonyms can be used in a search with a database feature called the OR operator.  The OR operator will have the database retrieve information items with any one of the search terms.  To do an OR operator search, databases will often have a choice on their advanced search page to change the AND operator to OR; this is usually located to the left of the second and third search boxes.  All the search terms could be typed in individual search boxes.  The OR operator would need to be selected for all the search boxes except the first search box.  An alternative method is to use one search box by typing the search as: car OR motorcar OR auto OR sedan OR automobile.  The database will implement the OR function when OR is typed in all capital letters.

Subject Terms Ascribed to an Information Resource

        Subject Terms Ascribed to an Information Resource

Subject terms can be used to enhance a search for information resources.  Subject terms are added to information about an information resource.  For example, in the subjects information area on the webpage results of an article on the chemistry of rain forest ecology, it might include the terms: compounds, molecule, electron, atom, condensation, experiment, and oxygen.  One of these terms could be added to the search boxes to find more articles related to the chemistry of rain forest ecology.  For example, the term, compounds, could be added to other search terms such as: forest restoration, and rain forest ecology.


Field Selection: Subject

The database will retrieve even more specific results related to a search term when the field selection option feature of the database is changed to: Subject.  To change the field selection to Subject, the Advanced Search webpage needs to be selected.  On the initial search page, most databases will have an option to click: Advanced Search.  This is usually located next to the search box.

On the Advanced Search page, the field selection options are usually located to the right of each search box.  Click on the field selection area, and then a dropdown menu of field selection options will appear.  From this dropdown menu, select the option that contains the term: Subject. Add the search terms in each search box and then click: Search.


Field Selection: Title

In addition to selecting Subject for the field option to retrieve relevant results, additional relevant results can often be found by selecting the field option: Title.


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Wayne Altenberg
Merced College
Los Banos Campus Library
22240 Highway 152
Los Banos, CA 93635
Reference Desk: 209-381-6434 Office: (209) 381-6431