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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Advanced Library Search Strategies

Learn how to search for articles, books, and other scholarly works through citation chasing and optimal keyword searching. This guide accompanies the Savvy Researcher workshop, "Advanced Library Search Strategies."

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

Series of three venn diagrams illustrating the different results retrieved by searches using Boolean Operators AND, OR, NOT. Boolean Searching: A search technique that uses Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) to limit or widen your search.

Boolean operators define the relationship between your search terms, allowing you to refine and focus your results.

  • AND narrows your results by linking two terms together
  • OR widens your results by bringing up results that have one term or another or both
  • NOT restricts your search by excluding the term directly following it - it's a great operator to use if your search is retrieving a lot of irrelevant results!

Guided Practice in Academic Search Ultimate

Limit and Refine

  • Scroll down to the icons on the Library homepage. Click on the middle icon, "Databases by Subject & A-Z" (it is an orange computer logo with 'A-Z' on its screen).
  • This is the list of all the Library databases. Since it is organized alphabetically by default, "Academic Search Ultimate" should be the fourth result. It is a broad, multidisciplinary database and a great place to start your research. Click on the title to enter the database.
  • In Academic Search Ultimate, type "art" and "music" in the first and second search bars with the boolean operator, AND, between the two search terms (as shown 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, then repeat with the following examples to see how your results change.
    • art AND music = 76,192 results
    • art AND music NOT science = 70,981 results
    • art AND music NOT science NOT dance = 66,124 results

We see that the NOT operator yields the least results and allows us to search more specifically.

Widen and Expand

  • Get rid of your last two search terms "science" and "dance." Between "art" and "music" change the drop-down menu from "AND" to "OR." Hit "Search." 
    • art OR music = 1,785,300 results

We see that the OR operator actually yields the most results and makes our search much broader.

You can also use synonyms or alternate spellings to expand your search. Trial and error is the best way to get results that work for you and your research.

Boolean Modifiers

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

  • The asterisk, *, attaches to the stem of a word and searches for any word which 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 exactly what 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 Ultimate


  • Scroll down to the icons on the Library homepage. Click on the middle icon, "Databases by Subject & A-Z" (it is an orange computer logo with 'A-Z' on its screen). Select Academic Search Ultimate from the list.
  • In Academic Search Ultimate, search "art" and "music" without the addition of any boolean modifiers, like displayed below.
    • art AND music = 76,192 results.
  • 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

  • Type the phrase, "music performance" in the search bar without quotation marks and click "Search." Take note of the number of results.
    • music performance = 37,047 results
  • Type double quotation marks around the phrase, "music performance" and click "Search." Notice how your search results decrease.
    • "music performance" = 27,582 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.