Here are some techniques you can use to improve your search results
- Go back to your protocol. Can you apply any of your inclusion and exclusion criteria to your search, for instance, English-only papers or a particular date limit?
- Use any papers that you have already identified independently of your search, and check to see if they are coming up in this search result set. If for example I had previously known about this paper, PMID 26414962 (PMID is a unique identifier for each article in PubMed), I could use the Advanced Search Builder to make sure that that particular paper showed up in my search strategy's results. By clicking "Add" next to the search strategy and combining it with AND for this paper's PMID, you can see if that PMID is included in the total set of results. Click these images to enlarge:
- Sort your results by relevance and try to identify any particular relevant papers in the first few pages of results. If you find any good ones, scan their abstracts and MeSH terms to make sure you didn't miss anything important from your own search strategy.
- Sort your results by date of publication and try to identify any particularly irrelevant papers. If you are seeing thousands of results that are utterly off topic, click into them and see if you can figure out why they are coming up. Some common issues include: a broad MeSH term exploding to include very irrelevant terms, keywords that are too broad and used too commonly by authors, or unexpected results of truncation. In PubMed, you can always look at the "search details" box on the results page to see how PubMed translated your search commands.