Analyzing search results

Sometimes, an information search may give you a very large number of results, while at other times, you find no results at all. In addition, a search will often give you unexpected results that do not answer your information need in any way. In such cases, you had better review your search plan from another viewpoint and consider the search words and information sources you want to use.

You can evaluate the success of your information retrieval by considering the following points:

1. Were the search words too broad or narrow?

  • You can specify your information retrieval by re-evaluating your search words or by making use of any useful references or sources you might already have found.
  • You can broaden your search by using both free text and subject headings. You can search for new subject headings among the subject headings in suitable publications you have already discovered.
  • You can find more subject headings in the reference lists and literature references of the publications you already have. They often contain other suitable sources about the same subject.
  • Review the meaning of search words and subject headings (descriptors) in the chapter on Search words and thesauruses.

2. Have you ever tried combining searches?

  • For example, if you want to find information about the health impacts of chocolate in Finnish or English, the search (suklaa OR chocolate) AND (terveys OR health) will result in publications that include at least one of the words “suklaa” or “chocolate” and at least one of the words “terveys” or “health”.
  • Review the methods for information retrieval.

3. Have you chosen the information source, e.g. a database, correctly?

  • When evaluating the success of your information retrieval, keep in mind that there are large numbers of both electronic and printed material at hand, and no one single source is generally enough, but you need to gather information from several sources.

The chapter “Helka and library collections” contains tips for finding various sources of information.

A good search result usually requires several information searches. To avoid unnecessary work, always write down both your search plan and the searches you have made with their results; it is easy to return to a documented plan and events later.