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The Writing Guide

Planning, researching, writing, referencing and drafting your assignments

Boolean Searching

When you use more than one keyword or phrase the search engine needs to know how to combine them in sets. You can do this with Boolean  Operators AND, OR, and NOT. When these operators connect your keywords they either broaden or narrow your search.

AND: finds records that with all the keywords words specified. It is the most common operator and many search engines use it as a default setting. Strawberry AND Vanilla AND Chocolate retrieves all the records that contain Strawberry, Vanilla and Chocolate. It narrows your search.

OR: finds records that contain either or both of the words specified. It is useful for finding synonyms or where different words are of equal value in your search.Strawberry OR Chocolate OR Vanilla retrieves records that contain either or all Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla. It broadens your search.

notNOT: finds records with only the first two of the three terms. (Strawberry OR Vanilla) NOT Chocolate retrieves records with Strawberry and/or Vanilla but excludes those records containing Chocolate. It narrows your search but should be used with care as it can easily exclude relevant results.

Beyond Boolean

icecream scoopsYou can create more complex search strategies using Parentheses. For example: Ice-cream AND (Chocolate OR Vanilla). This works the same way parentheses work in mathematics - remember BOMDAS? The part of the "sum" in parentheses is done first, and the "answer" is then combined with the rest of the search string.

Searching for exact phrases using Inverted commas ("question marks") can also provide a more accurate search result. For example: "chocolate ice-cream"

Truncation symbols such as * and ?  can be used to find words with the same root, so that plurals and other variations of a word are included. For example: A search for sweet* finds sweets, sweetener, sweeter etc.

Be aware of spelling variations between British and American English and try alternatives in your search sets. For example: colour OR color

Nesting (using parentheses)

This video shows how parentheses (round brackets) are used to keep parts of your search together and "nest" them.

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