Answered By: Timothy Grasso
Last Updated: Dec 07, 2018     Views: 82

The key to crafting a good search term is to produce a manageable number of hits relevant to your specific topic. If your terms are too broad there will be an overly large number of results, and they are less likely to be relevant to your topic. On the other hand, if your terms are too narrow, you will likely retrieve little to no results, and the results you do get may leave out valuable resources in your research area.

1. For instance, Looking for only one term in a keyword search (e.g. "Augustine") will give you far too many results--this is too broad. 

  • In order to narrow the search to your specific topic, type in a general subject term (Augustine) followed by a more specific term related to your paper topic (Donatists). You can make this more specific by taking advantage of the advanced search feature. Here you can utilize multiple fields and boolean operators, as well as other limiters, including date ranges and specific databases. 

2. If you find that there are too many terms stacked in the Keyword searching fields, producing too few results, try using a broader subject term that includes your topic, or limiting the number of search terms.

Usually papers suffer from being overly broad, but occasionally there may not be enough resources to cover overly specific paper topics. The level of specificity achievable in a given research topic (barring original research), depends on the total amount and detail of work already written on the subject. You may need to adjust your paper topic accordingly if your properly nuanced search results are too numerous or few. 

If you find yourself struggling to find the proper number or quality of sources for a paper, please feel free to contact our reference librarians at You can also schedule an in-person or electronic meeting here.

If, however, your trouble has more to do with paper topic and thesis, or issues with structure and mechanics, please reach out to Fuller's writing Center at You can also schedule an in-person or online appointment here.  

Please download the handout below for an overview of Basic Research Strategy.