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Tarleton State University Libraries Unit 4
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image of a checklist   Search Limits narrow searches and increase precision. They can be used one at a time, in combinations, or in conjunction with other techniques for refining searches (phrase searches, boolean operators, wildcard searches, truncation, and so on).

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Most online search tools let users restrict (limit) searches by activating search limit features, which are offered on the search interfaces (basic and/or advanced). These limits include a variety of criteria: date of publication, publication type (newspaper, audio, etc.), level of scholarship (academic, popular, and trade), and so on.

Using search limits is especially useful when trying to locate materials from a specific time period or in a specific resource type. Search limiters, however, should be used carefully. Too many limits (or poorly chosen ones) can create searches that do not retrieve any usable items--even in a database containing an abundance of useful information.

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Frequently, a refined search using previously discussed modifications is all that is needed to retrieve adequate search results. However, sometimes more restrictions are needed, which is where search limiters come into play. If offered, each online search tool offers its own set of limiters, which are usually activated by using checkboxes or pull-down menus.

The following images show common search limit choices and are accompanied by explanations about what each choice does. Additional comments are given as needed.

image of checkbox for full text Limits results to online full text articles.
NOTE: Choosing this option can severely restrict your results because many journal publishers put citations, not articles online. Others wait weeks or months to put articles online. Therefore, it is usually best to not restrict your results to only those articles that can be retrieved online. Instead, search for citations and articles and locate articles using the citations (see Unit 6 for more details) -- especially when you are researching time-sensitive topics.

image of checkbox for scholarly journals Limits results to citations and articles from scholarly/academic journals.
NOTE: This limit is useful when searching specifically for scholarly articles. Be aware, however, that some magazines (trade, popular, special interest, etc.) also contain useful information and research. Consequently, restricting your search by using this limiter will filter out results from these magazines.
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image of drop-down menu for dates Limits results to specific date ranges.
This limiter comes in handy when you want to retrieve materials published within a specific time frame (i.e. court cases, writings about a theorist, and so on) or when you want to restrict results to the most recent listings (i.e. time-sensitive topics).

image of drop-down menu for publication type Limits results to specific types of publications.
Limiting by source type is especially useful when your information need clearly indicates that a particular type of material would be most useful. (Unit 3 discusses matching information sources to information needs.)
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image of drop-down menu for  document type Limits results to specific types of documents (article, book review, case study, and so on).
Using this search limit can be quite useful, especially if the searches are retrieving too many irrelevant results and refining the searches is not increasing precision enough. However, choose document types carefully so to not limit the search too far.

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Library Orientation Site Index
Updated 7/2004