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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Advanced Research at the Library

Learn how the professionals search for articles, books, and other scholarly works through citation chasing and optimal keyword searching. This guide accompanies the Savvy Researcher workshop, "Revamp Your Research Plan: Citation Chasing, Keyword Searching

What is Boolean Searching?

Boolean searching refers to a search technique that uses tools called operators and modifiers to limit, widen, and refine your search results.

Boolean Searching

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

When used, boolean operators can limit and refine or widen and expand your search. Operators tie your search terms together in different ways.

  • AND links search terms together.
  • OR searches for one term or another.
  • NOT excludes the search term directly following it.

Guided Practice in Academic Search Complete

Limit and refine

Step 1.

On the Library homepage search for "Academic Search Complete" in Easy Search. A direct link to Academic Search Complete will be at the top of your search results.

Steps 2-5.

Inside Academic Search Complete, type "art" and "music" in the first and second search bars with the boolean operator, AND, between the two search terms, as shown in #1 below. Before the second and third search bars you will see drop-down menus with the word AND. This a drop-down menu for boolean operators and can be changed to NOT and OR.  Click "Search." Repeat with examples #2 and #3 to see how your results change.

  1. art AND music = 108,749 results
  2. art AND music NOT science = 104,138 results
  3. art AND music NOT science NOT dance = 98,414 results

The NOT operator then allows you to search more specifically.

Widen and Expand

Step 6.

Get rid of your last two search terms "science" and "dance." Between "art" and "music" change the drop-down menu from "AND" to "OR" as shown below in #1. Hit "Search."

  1. art OR music = 1,326,355 results

You can also use synonyms or alternate spellings to expand your search


Boolean Modifiers

Boolean Modifiers can further expand, refine, and improve a search. Boolean modifiers include the asterisk, *, (also known as truncation/wildcard searching), (parentheses), "quotation marks"

  • The asterisk, *, attaches to the stem of a word and searches for any word includes that stem, or the letters before the asterisk. Therefore, you will get results with different endings but all the same stem. See the following example:
    • Searching for stat* will return results with the following words:
      • state, states, statute, statutory, statistic, statistics, stats, statistical, and more!
  • Parentheses, (), are used to encapsulate OR statements. If you want results that return one word out of a group of two or more, you put them between parentheses to ensure that only one of the search terms is returned: (elderly OR aged OR senior citizen).
  • Quotation marks, "", return exactlyw hat you typed inside the quotation marks. Therefore if you search for "state" you will only get results containing the word "state" (even the plural of 'state will not be included in your search results!).

Guided Practice in Academic Search Complete


Step 1.

On the Library homepage search for "Academic Search Complete" in Easy Search. A direct link to Academic Search Complete will be at the top of your search results.

Step 2.

Search "art" and "music" without the addition of any boolean modifiers, like displayed below.

  1. art AND music = 108,749 results

Step 3.

Search for "art" in the first search bar. In the second search bar, type the word "music" followed by an asterisk, *, like the following: music*. Click "Search" and notice how your results increase.

By using the asterisk, the database then searches for all results with "art" and words beginning with "music," including musical, musician, musicality, etc.

Limit and Refine

Step 1.

Type the phrase, "music performance" in the search bar without quotation marks and click "Search." Take note of the number of results.

  1. music performance = 55,249 results

Step 2.

Type double quotation marks around the phrase, "music performance" and click "Search." Notice how your search results decrease.

  1. "music performance" = 48,056 results

By using quotation marks, the database then searches for only results where "music" is immediately followed by "performance" instead of results that have "music" and "performance" anywhere in the text.