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Frequently Asked Questions

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators are a simple tool to conduct your searches. There are three basic words to use: AND, OR, NOT.

1. And: This operator searches for things that include all of the phrases you have connected together. This is a great way to limit your search by connecting ideas you want to research.

Boolean Operators Venn diagram

2. OR: Searches all words in a search. This will retrieve the largest number of results in a basic keyword search. So from the graphic, you can see that this search would retrieve anything that has either the word dog OR cat.

Boolean Operators Venn diagram

3. NOT: By using the not operator, you remove potential results. You can see that a whole term is removed from the results page. However, this may remove results that are relevant so this should be used sparingly. For example, the abstract or full text of an article may say, “see my previous article about cats, here I want to focus on dogs.” And if you searched for things that don’t say “cat,” that would not be retrieved.

Boolean Operators Venn diagram

Quotations and Wildcards

Quotations are helpful when you are searching for a specific search string, such as "golden retriever" or "German shepherd" if you are interested in these dog breeds. Without the quotation makes for example, German shepherd would return any results that mention German people and shepherds of sheep and goats!

There are many wildcards databases use but the most useful may be truncation. The asterisk * symbol is often used to find word endings. For example, comput* will return results with the words computer, computer, and computation.

You can also use the asterisk in the middle of words such as hea*one. This will return results with the word headphone, headstone, and hearthstone.

Search Terms Example Matches
comput* computer, computers, computation, computational, computations
hea*one headphone, headstone, hearthstone, heart stone, heather stone
midsummer * dream midsummer night's dream, midsummer day's dream


Information, charts, images drawn from: Bell, Suzanne S., and Christopher C. Brown. Librarian’s Guide to Online Searching : Cultivating Database Skills for Research and Instruction . Fifth edition. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2018. pages, 65-68

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