Jessup Playbooks Logo

How do I conduct Boolean searches?


Profile Photo
L Skinner

Need Help?

Ask a Librarian @
Betty Sue Jessup Library

501 College Drive
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Targeted, Efficient Searching

          frustrated student

  • Do you want to make your database searches fast and efficient?

  • Do you get frustrated when it seems there's nothing on your topic?

  • Get the results you need without having to sort through pages of hits, and save yourself time and frustration by using Boolean searches! 

Boolean Searching Basics

and-or-not illustrationWhat is Boolean searching?

Boolean searching is a system for creating relationships between words by using Boolean operators. Databases respond best to Boolean searching.

What are Boolean operators?

They are short words (AND, NOT, OR) that when used to join keywords in searches, combine or exclude concepts from the search, leading to results that are more productive, focused, and targeted.

What does each Boolean operator do?

AND combines concepts (keywords) and requires that all them appear in the resulting sources. Note that AND narrows a search (you get fewer, more targeted results).

  • Example:
    • felines AND behavior -- each source will have the word "felines" and the word "behavior" somewhere. 

OR combines concepts and causes any of the terms (or all of them) to appear in the results. It's often used for synonyms or for related words. Note that OR broadens a search (you get more results). OR statements are placed in parentheses when combined with other Boolean operators.

  • Examples:
    • felines OR cats -- each source will have the word "felines," the word "cats," or both "felines" and "cats."
    • (babies OR infants OR toddlers) AND immunity -- each source will have the word "immunity," and will also have one of the other words, or all of them. 

NOT excludes terms, that is, it directs the database to ignore results that contain the word or words after OR.

  • Examples:
    • Labor NOT pregnancy -- this will exclude results in which the word "labor" appears in the source.
    • Saturn NOT car -- this will exclude results in which the word "car" appears in the source.
    • Greece NOT Athens -- this will exclude results in which the word "Athens" appears in the source.

How do you set up a Boolean search?

Connect your keywords with the operators that best conveys to the database what you want, and then search. If the results don't look right, try a new combination and search again.

  • Examples:
    • adolescents AND anxiety AND treatments
    • (women OR girls) AND self-esteem
    • Saturn NOT planet

ResearchMinute Video: Boolean Operators

Watch this video to learn how to target and refine your database and search engine searches by using Boolean operators.

Need Help?