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Preparing for university

Page title

Refining your search

Less than 500 words

How to refine a search

Even a carefully crafted search strategy may leave you with too many results to sift through.  So it's at this point that a search can be refined even further.

Go to the library catalogue  and conduct the following search and see what the refinements do to the number of results.

Search for driving test.  You should get around 300 results.

To the left of the results screen you will see a number of facets that you can refine your search by.  By selecting different ones you can reduce the number of results making it easier to find the right item for you.  

How many results do you get by selecting:

  • Year published: 2012, 2013
  • Format: Book, DVD
  • How many books were written by the Driving Standards Agency (author) in 2010 (year published)?

Can you see how selecting more than one refinement can reduce your results to a manageable number?  Refinement facets can be found on library catalogues, databases and shopping sites like eBay.  They may look different but they all operate in the same way. 


Why refine your searches?

Sometimes it's easier to start with a general idea and then become more specific over time.  This is a useful method when you want to see who else has written on a subject, alternative keywords or a different format.

Searching by year is useful because you may only want to get the most up to date information.  Or you may want to use something in a different format, perhaps you've watched a film and now you want to read the book or listen to the soundtrack.  In the case of libraries with multiple locations you may wish to find something in the branch nearest to you.


Refining searches in everyday life

Shopping online uses similar skills to those needed for completing your assignments.  When searching for something to buy, you will find yourself simplifying complex enquiries to locate an item e.g. what's the occasion/weather/my budget/my favourite colour?

Joe Shlabotnik.          

If someone sent you the picture above and asked you to find these clothes in an online store, which search terms might you include or exclude?


Terms to include

Terms to exclude

Baby clothes

Baby grows

Hooded top







Coffee table




If you were searching for furniture, you might want to switch the columns around.

If you don't find what you're looking for you can always change your combinations of terms.  So if you can't find purple baby grows try looking for purple baby clothes and then you might be given the option to refine your search to baby grows or romper suits which is another type of baby grow.

Also, it's important to combine your search terms in ways that make sense.  Leather carpet isn't going to find you a leather sofa or a carpet.  Similarly purple green striped will probably return something that's purple and green striped, not something with green stripes or something that has purple stripes.

Try for yourself, and search eBay or Debenhams.  Use the refinements on the left-hand side of the web sites screens to help you narrow down your search terms further.  The key is to start with the simplest, broadest terms and then add refinements to give you a smaller number of results.  You won't find the exact same items as in the picture but you should find something similar.