Boolean Operators are an advanced search technique that all students should know. It helps you to search for and find sources in an efficient way by search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results. Using Boolean Operators will provide better and more accurate results and can be used across search engines and databases.
You will want to use Boolean Operators for the majority of your database searches because databases do not understand or process language searches the same way that search engines do.
Watch these videos to learn more about Boolean operator searching.
Exact Phrase Search
Sometimes to need to search for something in the exact way it appears. This could be a search for a name, title, coordinates, a phrase (two or more words that belong together), or even a city and state. When you use the exact phrase search technique, you put quotes around whatever you want to lock into your search.
Here are some examples:
"alternative energy": This will retrieve results where these terms appear in this specific order and together. So, you will not get results with just energy or just alternative or energy alternative
"Marc Los Huertos": This will find results that include this author's full name, instead of results that also include sources that have the words, "Marc" or "Los" or "Mark Los" or "Los Huertos"
You don't want to use quotes around single words like utopia because search engines and databases will already search for that term exactly as it appears if it is by itself.
Many of us start our searches on a search engine like Google. But, as you do your research, using a search engine can be tricky. There is a lot of information that may not be credible and can be overwhelming to sort through.
Search engines understand natural and Boolean language, so that means you can use questions, sentences, keywords, phrases, symbols, exact phrase searching, truncation and Boolean operators. In order to efficiently find credible and relevant information on the open web, you will want to utilize some useful commands. One of those is the site: command.
It's important to note that you cannot use the site: command in a database, only search engines.
The site: command helps you to find information that has been published on a specific domain or a website. When using the site: command, you will want to be selective on which domains you are searching as some are likely to have more credible information that others (example: .com vs .gov).
This search will tell Google to only find sources from .gov websites (U.S. Government) which talk specifically about ecology, urbanization, neighborhoods and poverty. It could be that we want to find how poorer communities have health disparity because of urbanization and what types ecological solutions have been promoted to reduce that impact.
Truncation is a way to search all at the same time for words that may appear in multiple forms. Most databases and search engines understand that you want to apply truncation when you use an asterisk *.
It may be easier to understand truncation when you think of your search like a tree. You have the base and roots of the tree (base and root of the word you want to search) and the branches and leaves, birds, squirrels, nests...those are all the variations of the words that you might come across when searching (add an asterisk to find the variations of the word).
Here is an example:
Let's say you want to understand what types of policy there are relating to eco urbanization in California. So you go to Google Scholar and do a search for, (eco* urbanization AND policy AND California).
ecolo* may return multiple results showing various forms of the word ecology such as eco, ecology, ecological, ecologies
Citation chaining is a search technique where we use forward and backward searching to find related sources and to understand the history and knowledge that went into and came out of a specific piece of scholarly literature. You probably already use these techniques, but just haven't heard the names for them, yet.
Backward searching, forward searching and then you reading and writing about the information that you have found is all part of the scholarly conversation.
When you open an article you may look at their list of references to see what sources they used, what organizations of knowledge that they draw from or to find a source that relates to a topic you want to know more about. When you look back at the literature used to create the article you are reading, that is called a backward search.
If you are in Google Scholar or Web of Science, you may open an article and see that it has been cited a certain number of times. When you go to and open one of the new pieces of literature that was created from the article you are reading, that is called forward searching. Forward searching is helpful to see what kind of scholarly impact the author's work is having on the scholarly community. Are people writing about it a lot, or citing it to support their work or because they are refuting the work?