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Boolean Search Strategies : Boolean Search Strategies

An advanced search strategies guide, dedicated to Boolean Search.

Speaking the Database's Language: Boolean Search

Unlike internet search engines such as Google, our library databases do not understand natural language. To search within the databases, you must use something called Boolean Search. Boolean Search is made up of five operators that help to make your search results more precise and relevant:

1) Quotation Marks " " 

2) Truncation *

3) AND

4) OR with ()

5) NOT

Boolean Search Strategies

Quotation marks tell the system that you would like to see the whole phrase, in the order in which the words appear.

For example, if you were doing a search for "professional communication", and you didn't use quotes, the database would search for results that have the words professional and communication individually. You will get results for resources for the words professional and communication, as well as 'professional communication', making your results list much longer and less relevant.

When we use quotation marks, we bring down our total number of results down, by ensuring that we are only seeing resources with the term 'professional communication' represented. 

Adding an asterisk onto the end of a truncated word tells the system to search for multiple endings to that word.

For example, searching for "advertising strateg*" would give you results for advertising strategy, singular, and advertising strategies, plural.

AND joins together two different words to communicate that you'd like them both represented in your search results.

For example, if you were doing a search for information on the impact of stress on consumer behavior, you would connect the two mains key terms with AND, to ensure that both concepts are represented in the results: "consumer behavior" AND stress.

OR is used to connect two terms that are typically synonyms or are otherwise interchangeable in the context of the search. OR tells the system that you would like results for either or both terms.

For example, if I was doing a search on the effects of stress on consumer behavior, and I wanted to use stress and anxiety interchangeably, this is how I would structure my query: "consumer behavior" AND (stress OR anxiety). 

Why do we use parentheses? 

Parentheses are used to bracket the OR terms because it tells the system that we'd like it to work with our structure, as opposed to defaulting left to right. If we did not bracket those terms with parentheses, the system would search for results for "consumer behavior" AND stress, but then search for anxiety separately, so that you would be getting results for consumer behavior that had nothing to do with anxiety. 

NOT is used when you want to exclude a keyword or term.

For example, if I wanted to search for the effects of stress and anxiety on consumer behavior, but did not want results related to panic buying, I would structure my query: "consumer behavior" AND (stress OR anxiety) NOT "panic buying". This would eliminate results containing the phrase "panic buying'.