EDHE 6064: Higher Education in the United States: Search Strategies

A Bit of History

Boolean operators are named for George Boole (1815-1864), an English Mathematician and Philosopher. Boolean Algebra and Symbolic Logic both derive from his work. Boole is generally considered the father of modern computer science. Most electronic indexes (databases) require the use of Boolean operators in parsing search terms, although this is not always apparent. Boolean search statements are incredibly powerful in retrieving what you need provided 1) the statement is formatted correctly and 2) your choice of search terms is correct for the topic you are researching.

Boolean Searching

Rather than typing a full sentence or question into a search box, using Boolean operators can help you create an efficient and effective database search. In order to use Boolean operators, you need to know:

Boolean operators

  • AND: both terms that you connect with AND must be somewhere in the bibliographic record for that record to be retrieved. AND narrows a search and retrieves fewer results.
  • OR: only one of the search terms combined with OR is required for the bibliographic record to be retrieved. OR broadens a search and retrieves more results.
  • NOT: excludes a particular subset, category, or term. NOT requires the presence of one search term and the exclusion of another.

Proximity operators

  • ADJ: adjacency is also combined with a number specifying the number of letters or words that may come between two search terms
  • NEAR: can require both search terms to be in the same sentence
  • WITH (or w/): can require both search terms to be in the same field; sometimes it is combined with a number and serves the same function as ADJ
  • IN: requires the search term to be found in the field specified

Truncation: A symbol, specific to the search interface, which allows the retrieval of all endings for the specified base word

Wildcard: A symbol, specific to the search interface, which allows the retrieval of various spellings of a word

Search the help screens for the search interface you are using to determine which Boolean and Proximity operators are being used and what the truncation and wildcard symbols are.

Example Boolean search statements

land grant and divers*

("Historically Black Colleges and Universities" or HBCU) and women

student organizations and (lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender or queer or LGBT or LGBTQ)

corps* and hazing

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