VetTRAC: Building Searches

Course guide for the summer VetTRAC program.

Boolean Operators

Databases use three primary operators to determine how you want your search to be run:

  • OR will find synonyms
    • cat OR feline
  • AND will combine ideas
    • cattle AND horses
  • NOT will exclude terms
    • mustangs NOT cars

Additionally, the use of () will allow the database to know how you want your search terms to be interpreted:

(horse OR equine) AND (hoof OR hooves) AND lameness

will bring much more relevant results as the search must include at least one term from the three primary concepts used (either or both of the terms horse/equine) AND (either or both of the terms hoof/hooves) AND the term lameness

Compare the above to this to the search:

horse OR equine AND hoof OR hooves AND lameness

where the blue indicates what and how the terms would be searched for and brought back in the results list. Here, results would include items that contained any of the following conditions:

  • anything with the term horse would be retrieved (so this would include anything about nutrition, reproduction, management, etc.); 
  • anything with both of the terms  equine and hoof would be returned (this would include things that weren't related to lameness);
  • anything that had both the terms hooves and lameness would  be returned (as the concept of "horse" is not tied to this, the results would include anything that also discussed sheep, cattle, and other animals with hooves that are lame).


Search Strategy Builder

Search Strategy Builder

The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. While it is not a database, you can cut and paste the results into the standard database search box as the parentheses will dictate how the search should be interpreted.

  Concept 1 AND Concept 2 AND Concept 3

Extract the major concepts from your topic and enter them here.

List alternatives for each concept.

  • These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.
  • Use single words or short phrases.
  • Find additional terms in abstracts and summaries of the articles, books, and other sources you find during initial searches.
Search terms Search terms Search terms













Search Strategy Builder created by University of Arizona Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Did you know?

In addition to Boolean operators, here are a few other tools you can use as you build your search statements:


Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to search for variations of a word so you didn't have to type OR all the time?  Good news, there is! The most common symbol used to add characters after a root word is the asterisks (*).  To use this, simply put the * at the end of your word, and the database will look for the root word, along with any letters that follow.  Be careful though, if your root word is too short, you'll get a lot of things that don't relate. For example:

vaccin* will find:

vet* will find:
  • vaccine
  • vaccines
  • vaccinate
  • vaccinates
  • vaccindated
  • vaccination
  • vaccinations
  • vet
  • vets
  • veterinary
  • veterinarian(s)
  • veteran(s)
  • vetted
  • veto/vetoed/vetoes

There are other truncation symbols you can use within words as well. Check the "help" section of the database to see what other symbols are supported by that particular database and how they can be used.


More search tips

Phrase Searching:

What if you need to search for a phrase?  You dictate that your terms must be found right next to each other and in the order you write them in simply by putting two or more words in quotation marks.  For example:

"thyroid disorders"
"large animal veterinarian"

Nested Searches:

What if you want to use more than one Boolean operator and more than one of the above tools?  It is very easy to combine Boolean operators, but as this follows a logical system, you must include parentheses to dictate order of operations.  For example, while the following two searches use the exact same terms and the same Boolean operators in the exact same order, they'll return very different numbers of results based on how the search was interpreted (bold and colors demonstrate how it will be read by the system):

this search: hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid" AND feline* OR cat AND treatment

would be interpreted as: hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid" AND feline* OR cat AND treatment

So records retrieved would include:

  • hyperthyroid (and all variations: hyperthyroidism, etc) / will not be tied to the concepts of feline/cat or treatment
  • records that have the phrase and term "overactive thyroid" AND  feline (and all variations: felines, etc) / will not look for synonym of cat or include the concept of treatment
  • records that have the term cat AND treatment / will not look for synonym of feline (and all variations) or include the concept of hyperthyroid/overactive thyroid

This was not effective, as the synonyms for the specific concepts were not interpreted the way I meant.  The use of () allows you to dictate to the database how you want the search interpreted

this search: (hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid") AND (feline* OR cat) AND treatment

would be interpreted as: (hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid") AND (feline* OR cat) AND treatment

as this search will look for records that have at least one of the terms: hyperthyroid (and all various endings) OR the phrase "overactive thyroid", but it also has to include at least one of the terms: cat OR feline (and all various endings) and the word treatment has to be in the record in order for the items to appear in the results list.