Refining Search Results

It is common for an initial search to return an overwhelming number of results. Refining the results allows you to identify exactly the items you need.

Show Only

Depending upon the search, there may be one or more Show only links at the top of the results list. Choosing one of these options will limit the results list to the indicated type of items; the numbers next to the options are how many of the results are of that type:

Peer-Reviewed Journals

This option limits the results to articles that were published in peer-reviewed journals. These are scholarly journals in which articles are evaluated by experts in the field (“peers”) prior to publication. Note, however, that while the main articles in such journals have been peer-reviewed, there may be other pieces in the journal (news, editorials, letters to the editor, etc.) that have not been peer-reviewed. Thus, just because an item has been published in a peer-reviewed journal does not guarantee that the item itself was peer-reviewed.

Full Text Online

This option limits the results to items (including books) where the entire content is available online through the library.

Available in Library

This option limits results to physical items, such as print books and journals, as well as microfilm, that you can touch and use in the library.  Note that items marked “available in library” may in fact be checked out.  Click the “Get It” link for more information on the location and availability of these items.

Refine My Results Sidebar

The sidebar to the left of the search results gives a number of ways to narrow down (or “refine”) the results. The options presented in the sidebar depend upon what is in the results list but there are some common choices that usually appear.  When you click the “More options” link, you will see a full list of available search-refining options; only the most common types will be initially visible.  The number next to each choice reflects the number of items in your results list that match that categoryt.

Resource Types

Select the type(s) of resource you are looking for.  When searching for articles, be sure to mark “Articles” rather than “Journals”.  Similarly, when searching for a journal publication, use the “Journals” option.

For example, to find journals dealing with the topic of nanotechnology, search for “nanotechnology” and then select the Journals option in the sidebar. The results will then list the journals (available from the library) that deal with the topic. It will not list any individual journal articles.

The other options available in this section depend upon the results from the particular search but some common ones are: Books–Both physical and electronic books. Reviews—These are particular types of articles and include both reviews in the sense of book reviews and reviews in the sense of articles summarizing the current state of research on a subject. Databases—These are library-provided indexes and databases, useful for more in-depth searching on a topic than is possible through BU Libraries Search. Conference Proceedings–These are scholarly materials that have been presented at academic conferences and later published in a collection.


Depending upon the search, this section lists various standard subject categories and allows the results to be limited to the chosen subject. The Subject categories are primarily useful for finding books since articles are only sometimes assigned this type of subject.


This section lists the main collections where the results were found and allows the results to be limited to those from a particular collection. See What is in BU Libraries Search for more about collections.


This section lists the main creators of the results and allows the results to be limited to those from a particular creator. Creator can be used in two senses here. In the most common sense, creator refers to the author or authors of the work, either individuals or organizations. But creator can also refer to the source or provider of ebooks. For example, many of BU’s ebooks are provided through a company called ebrary, so ebrary, Inc. often shows up in the list of creators.


Creation Date

This section allows you to limit the results to items created in particular time periods. The creation date is typically equivalent to the date an item was first published, though sometimes it may reflect a reprint date.


Combining and Clearing Refinements

Selected RefinementsAfter you have chosen one refinement, it is possible to continue to choose additional refinements. The results list will then show only results that meet the criteria for all the selected refinements (see image at right).

The selected refinements are displayed at the top of the results list. To remove a refinement, click on the X in the right of its box.

Suggested New Searches

At the bottom of the sidebar are Suggested New Searches. This area suggests new searches based on the results of your current search. Selecting one of these suggestions starts an entirely new search and may help you find relevant material that was not found in your initial search.
Suggested New Searches

There are two types of suggested searches:

By This Author/Creator

This section lists the authors or creators with the most items in the current search. Selecting one of them may find additional works by the author/creator. See the discussion of creator under Refine My Results Side Bar above for more about creators.

On This Subject

This section lists the standardized subjects most common in the current search results. Selecting one of them may find additional items on the subject. Note that although these terms come from the subjects in the current results, the new search treats the terms as key words so it may find items that have the terms in other fields (title, description, etc.), not just the subject field.

Sorting Results

The order in which results are presented is determined by the sort method, controlled by a drop down menu in the upper right of the list of results. The sort methods are:

Relevance — This is the default sorting method and attempts to put the items most relevant to the search on top. Relevance is based both on how closely the item matches the search (for example, how often the search terms appear in the item, and in which fields) and an estimate of the item’s academic significance, based on factors such where it is published or how often it is cited.


Sorts items by their publication date with the newest items on top.


Sorts items by their popularity.


Sorts items alphabetically by the name of their author. If an item has more than one author, the first author listed will be used. Depending on the source of the information about each item (see What is in BU Libraries Search), an author’s first or last name may be used to determine the order.


Sorts items alphabetically by their title. Depending on the source of the information about each item (see What is in BU Libraries Search), initial articles such as “the” or “a” may or may not be ignored when determining order.

Expanding Results

Expand My Results

Usually, a search is limited to items that are available from the library, either in print or online. However, selecting the Expand My Results option at the top of the sidebar expands the results to additional items that in most cases are not available directly. If this finds something that is desired but not available, it can be requested through Interlibrary Borrowing.  This option is especially recommended for users who are compiling a comprehensive literature search on a particular topic, like dissertation writers or bibliographers.