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History Seminar Research Paper Guide: Search Strategies

Boolean Searching

We use the words AND, OR, and NOT everyday in conversation without even thinking about them. But when we use these common words in a search engine (like Google), the library catalog, or a database they become powerful search tools.

Operator Examples Results
AND business AND ethics
cooking AND Spain
Retrieves records that contain     
ALL of the search terms.
OR hotels OR motels
www OR world wide web
theater OR theatre
Retrieves records that contain
ANY of the search terms, but
does not necessarily include
all of them
NOT java NOT coffee
Clinton NOT (William OR Bill)
Excludes records containing
the second search term.

 

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Too much info? Not finding enough?

  • Narrower or broader your search. 
  • How? Keywords will vary your results.
  • Use Help -- Each search tool has a Help file which will show you how to get the best results.

What operator should I use?

You have to experiment with different search strategies when you are doing research. Sorry, there's just no way around it. Boolean Operators can help you save time because they can improve your search results, but it's important to know when and why to use each one.

For example, let's use the research question "Do soft drinks contribute to childhood obesity?" Most databases give you the option to select Boolean Operators right on the search screen, so all you have to do is select the operator you want from a drop down box between search lines.
 

Here's some advice:

Use AND when your research topic has more than one key term/idea that must be present in all of your search results. In this example, the key points are "soft drinks" and "childhood obesity." Searching with AND gives you fewer results because you're telling the database that you will only accept results that include both of your search terms.

 

Use OR when your research topic has synonyms which different authors may use interchangeably, for example "soft drinks" and "soda." This way, you won't miss out on potentially important search results because a paper or book was written with different wording than you are searching under. Searching with OR gives you more results, because you are telling the database that you're willing to accept any result that includes at least one of your search terms.

Use NOT when your research topic is often closely associated with another concept you do not want information about, for example if you are researching soft drinks and childhood obesity, but do not want information about vending machines in schools. Searching with NOT gives you fewer results because you're telling the database that you will only accept results that include one of your search terms by itself.

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Remember to evaluate websites for reliability and accuracy before you use them in your research assignments.