Mastering Search Engines With Boolean Search Terms

In the past five years or so, search engines have become engrained in our lives. As more and more of the population searches online, new strategies emerge that can ensure you can find data faster and more efficiently. Boolean Searching, a popular way to abridge search experiences, allows you to look for what you need by employing more specific rules of computer database search. Basically, if you use Boolean search terms, you can sidestep needless time and energy in a Google search; you will be closer to using the language the computer database uses to find the resources you need.

One of the easier Boolean Search tips is to put what you’re searching for in quotes.  So, if you’re searching for something that is moresearch-terms than just one word, like American musicians, or Chicago musicians, type them into Google in the Boolean fashion: “American musicians,” and “Chicago musicians.” This way, the database won’t simply search for any page with the words “musicians,” “Americans,” or “Chicago” in them—which would surely be a lot.  More or less, using quotations helps you ensure that the phrase you are searching for pops up in searches in whole, rather than in chunk form.

Other Boolean tips are a bit more complex, but still easy to master.  Three crucial words to incorporate into your search terms are “or,” “and,” and “not.” These words are often referred to as “Boolean operators.” Here are some pointers on how to use each:


You’ll want to search with “or” when you are looking for something that can be named by more than two acceptable words.  Some classic examples of this are: British or English; college or university; African American or black; Native American or American Indian. So, if you’re searching for a term that falls under this category, be sure to include “OR” to connect the two different words or phrases.  This will dramatically increase the amount of documents you get, as it broadens the databases’ search capabilities.


The word “and” works in the precisely opposite way in search engines. Again, there are many words that may go hand-in-hand with a typical Google search.  For instance, if you’re searching for statistics on hunger, you may also be searching for poverty statistics. So, in order to minimize the amount of pages you receive, employ Boolean search terms. Since you hope to receive not only hunger statistics, but also poverty statistics, you should search for “Hunger statistics AND poverty statistics.” Essentially, this method allows you to search for the smaller amount of pages included in the computer database that include both of these terms. Another thing to keep in mind: you can add more than two terms.  Say you’re looking for a page about hunger statistics, poverty statistics, and pregnancy rates. Search for “hunger statistics AND poverty statistics AND pregnancy rates.” Voila!


A final, more simple Boolean search tip is to use the word “not” in searches where you want to specifically exclude certain results. For instance, if you’re hoping to find information on Chelsea Clinton, but you’re finding mostly information about Bill or Hillary Clinton, you would want to search for: “Chelsea Clinton NOT Hillary Clinton NOT Bill Clinton.” A minus sign (-) can also be used to get the same job done.  For instance, if you’re looking for information on tumors, but not malignant tumors, search for “tumors –malignant.”

Although there are many other Boolean search tips, these three should get you on your way to more effective search engine use.

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