Answered By: Kate Holvoet
Last Updated: Jan 14, 2015     Views: 7

A search in the library catalog, databases or even Google sometimes produces zero results.  Why is that?  There are several factors that can bring back a zero result set:

1. Misspelled words - the way search engines work is that they compare your search terms to an internal index of terms that the software has created, which also points to where documents are located.  For more in depth information on how search engines work, see the Google site on How Search Works.  If your term is misspelled, you will only be able to see results where the author has also misspelled the term.  For example, if you mistype Dubai as Dubia, you will only get a result if a record has the same misspelling (or if that misspelling is a real word in another language).

2. There really is nothing there with your combination of search terms - unless you know that there is something that should come up in a results list like a title you have checked out from the library before, it is possible that you have asked for a combination of terms that simply doesn't exist in that index.  The smaller the data set that you are searching, the more likely this is to be true.  For example, the library catalog is a data set only of what the ZU Library owns.  You are more likely to get a zero result (because we don't own the item you are looking for or any items on that topic) than if you did the same search in the database for the same title or topic.  Amazon has a much bigger collection of records, so they are more likely to have any title or book on any topic you might search for.

2a. You are searching in the wrong place - This is a subset of #2.  There isn't anything where you are looking because you are looking in the wrong place.  If you want to find a phone number for Etisalat, don't look in the ZU Library Catalog, look on Google.  If you want to find a dissertation, look in Google Scholar or in a database of dissertations such as ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Database.  If you don't know where to begin looking, try the largest data set you have access to, which is most likely Google.  If that doesn't work, contact a librarian for assistance and we will help you find the best place to search for your information.

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