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Make this database search your best yet!

by Maddi Demaree

Has anyone else had that sinking feeling when you type your search term into a database and there are thousands of results? Or the fear that strikes through your heart when only a couple resources about your topic pop up? While we have a wealth of scholarly information at our fingertips thanks to the Principia College library online database system, sometimes it can feel like too much!

I’m sure none of you have the time or the desire to sift through thousands of articles and books on your topic—so why not let the computer do your work for you?

There are three special words (AND, OR, and NOT) called “Boolean Operators” that will help you narrow or broaden your search quickly and easily. Utilizing these words as part of your search terms will inform database more specifically about what you’re looking for.

I’ll give you a few examples of how to use each word.

AND – narrows your search

You use “AND” to specify two terms that you want to appear in the same article. For example, if I am writing a research paper about domesticated cats, I might make this my search term:

cats AND domestic

               OR—broadens your search

You use “OR” if your initial search did not produce enough results. Using “OR” will bring up all the resources for both of your search terms. For example, if I am writing a research paper about the realist theory in political science as applied to the Gulf War, I might search with

“realist theory” OR “gulf war”

so that I can find all the resources on realist theory and on the Gulf War.

NOT—narrows your search

You use “NOT” to specify a term that you do not want to appear with the rest of the results. This is probably a pesky term that is not actually related to the topic you want to research. For example, if I am writing the same paper about domestic cats, but resources about jungle cats keep appearing, I might search:

cats NOT jungle

This search would keep resources about jungle cats from appearing, because it is telling the database to look for all the resources about cats, but to exclude any resource that mentions “jungle” cats.

Using these three terms will help you refine your searches to make them efficient, effective, and, your best one yet!

Maddi Demaree is a junior majoring in education. Last spring she traveled on the Finland Abroad.

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