The Magic To Better Search - Boolean Searches

as defined by

A query using the Boolean operators, AND,OR, and NOT, and parentheses to construct a complex condition from simpler criteria. A typical example is searching for combinations of keywords on a World-Wide Web search engine.

When using Boolean operators in your searches you can increase the accuracy of your research. Below you will find a number of combinations that you can use in your research to get better results and less options to sort through.

Quotation Marks

“ ”

Using quotation marks around a phrase or group of words will force a search engine to only show results that use that group of words, in that order.

Ex. “Homelessness in California”

This search will only show results that have the term “Homelessness in California” used in that order, this would make it unlikely that you would get results that talked about areas other than California.

Plus and Minus

+ -

These two common mathematical symbols can be used to force certain words to be included or to be ignored. Using a + in front of a word will force the search to only display results with that word, where the – in front of a word will cause the search engine to ignore those results.

Ex. +cats –dogs

This search will cause the search engine to only show results that contain cats and not dogs. This is very useful to weed out results that are not useful. If you notice a large group of results that are not related to what you are trying to research, conduct the search again, his time with a – in front of one of the words in those incorrect results.


Using OR as a capital word in the middle of a search can be used to broaden your search results. When compared to +, it will generally provide more results, as it will show results that contain one or both words.

Ex. cats OR dogs

This search will provide a large number of results. The search engine will show you articles that contain cats, articles that contain dogs, and articles that contain cats and dogs.


Using AND acts very similar to the + command. It will bring up results that contain both phrases, this can help you to get a more accurate search.

Ex. cats AND dogs

This search will show results that contain both words, limiting the results from those shown when using only the OR command.


NOT acts very similar to – when used in searches. Use it to limit your searches to remove unwanted results from your searches.

Ex. cats AND dogs NOT pigeons

This will cause a search engine to show you articles that talk about cats and dogs, but excludes any article that talks about pigeons. Many times this can be a useful tool to lower the number of articles you need to review when doing research.


This command is not available in all search engines but can produce some very useful results when it is available. NEAR will only show results that contain the words you listed immediately before and immediately after NEAR within 16 words of each other.

Ex. cats NEAR dogs

Using this search will show you a collection of articles that talk about both cats and dogs, but only if they are within 16 words of each other, this decreases the number of results even more than AND, +, or -.

For a easy to refer to resource, print out the .pdf hand out from UC Berkeley found HERE.

Last Updated: 3/4/2015 4:01 PM