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PTSD: National Center for PTSD


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Modify Your Search



This section is for Researchers, Providers, & Helpers

This section is for Researchers, Providers, and Helpers

Modify Your Search

If your search does not turn up the results you want, here are some suggestions:

Too Many Citations

Examine at least a few of the results to see whether you defined your topic too broadly, or used too broad a search strategy.

  • If almost all of them are indeed relevant, ask yourself how you can redefine your objective. (Perhaps you should choose a narrower topic: for example, natural disasters rather than stressors in general.)
  • If many of the citations are irrelevant, you need to refine your search strategy. Look at some of the irrelevant citations, and see what they have in common. Does the same descriptor appear in all of them? If you repeated your search without using that descriptor, would you be eliminating valuable citations as well as irrelevant ones? If not, you've found one way of bringing your search results down to a more manageable size. (Other methods might include restricting your search by date or by format.)

Too Few Citations

What if your search has retrieved fewer citations than you think it should have?

  • Perhaps there really are very few papers in your area. (Or at least very few that have found their way into the PILOTS Database.)
  • Perhaps your search strategy was too narrow. Again, look at your results. Find a citation that is directly relevant, and see what descriptors were applied to it. Perhaps you might want to add one or more of them to your search strategy.
  • Don't forget to double check to be sure that you weren't defeated by a simple typing error.

No Relevant Citations

What if you found no relevant citations? Is there a paper that you know to be relevant? If yes, then search for that paper (by author and title), retrieve the citation, and see how it was indexed in the PILOTS Database. The record might suggest one or more descriptors to use in searching.

It often happens that a search of the PILOTS Database (or any other database) doesn't produce the results that you expect. Database searching works best as an iterative process. Don't expect to get definitive results with your first try; plan on doing an exploratory search, and then modify your search strategy according to the results you get.

Don't be discouraged if your first search strategy is imperfect. Experts at database searching often have to modify their search techniques, especially when working with a database that is new to them. And don't be surprised if you come across a citation whose indexing seems strange to you. You may well know more about the topic than the indexer does. (If you find a paper that you believe has been incorrectly indexed, please let us know. We don't mind correcting our mistakes.)

Date this content was last updated is at the bottom of the page.

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The National Center for PTSD does not provide direct clinical care, individual referrals or benefits information.

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