Search engines like Google and Yahoo! bring tons of information quickly whenever we ask for it. But when you need meaningful search results, a simple phrase or keyword might not generate the most relevant results. That’s where Boolean logic comes in: Boolean search terms can help you find the most relevant websites efficiently. Knowing the basics to Boolean Logic will improve your search strategies, saving you time and effort.
What Is Boolean Logic? Why use it?
Boolean logic refers to search operators or terms that can help narrow or broaden your search results. Boolean logic is essentially a mathematical equation: the right terms can add or subtract results based on the variables you give. The result: a list of relevant webpages that meet your specific criteria, instead of every webpage that has your term.
Boolean terms are useful to anyone conducting research, because they simply generate the results you really want. Let’s say you want pictures of a cat and dog together. Without using the Boolean term “AND”, searching “cat dog” will yield millions of results (most of them about the cartoon “Catdog”). In contrast, submitting “cat AND dog” will give significantly different top results, and the pictures of a cat and dog together.
Here are the most common Boolean search terms, explained below. Adding these to any search will generate better returns. An important note: when searching normally through a database, catalog, or engine, boolean operators do not have to be capitalized. For the purposes of illustrating their use, they are capitalized in the examples below.
AND: This will give you results on all the terms searched, and will exclude any results that are missing any of the terms.
For example, searching “car AND accident AND lawyer” will only gather results that include “car”, “accident” and “lawyer” together, and exclude results of just “car”, just “accident”, or just “lawyer”.
OR: This operator will gather any results that have either one or all of the terms. OR is actually a default connector to many search engines, which is why basic search results usually come up with many results.
By default, Google’s search engine will read the phrase “car accident lawyer” as “Car OR accident OR lawyer” and will bring up any results that include these keywords. You can see the difference in a search result comparison when you search “Car accident AND lawyer” versus “car accident lawyer.”
NOT or – (dash): Using NOT or the – (dash) will exclude the topic following the Boolean operator. The dash should be right next to word you want excluded from the search results, without a space (example: -injury). This can be helpful when you want to avoid particular results.
For example, searching “-injury car accident law” will bring many articles on car accidents that involve a death, or someone “killed” in an accident. While this news might be helpful for understanding similar cases, maybe you want sources on car accident laws without any injured parties or deaths. By searching “-killed car accident law,” your results will not include deaths and instead will produce more legal help results.
” ” (Quotation Marks): Quotation marks around search terms will retrieve results that have the exact phrase, in the exact order within the quotations. For comparison, “Car injury claims” will bring up results with the exact phrasing together, while “Car injury NEAR claims” can bring up results of “car injury” in the front of a sentence or paragraph, with claims towards the end.
* (Wildcard Symbol): The asterisk can replace one or more letters in a key term, which is why it’s called a wildcard. This is extremely helpful for when you want results that might be phrased differently, or if you’re unsure of the spelling of something.
For example, maybe you want to search “contributory negligence” but know it might be called something else. You can instead type “contributory *” to broaden your search and include possible phrases that include your main key term. The use of the wildcard symbol will pull up phrases like “contributory infringement,” but also “contributory faults” and “contributory claims,” which closely resemble what you were originally looking for.
NEAR: The NEAR operator will generate results of terms that appear close to each other. Usually this closeness is defined as within 1 to 20 words from each other. This type of search can be helpful for when you are trying to find a particular phrase. For example, ” ‘car accident’ NEAR claims NEAR injury” is a broader way to get information on car accident claims involving injuries, without needing an exact phrase match.
Most search engines will try to find your keywords in close proximity, so NEAR might not be as useful in a general search. Rather, the NEAR operator will be the most effective when you combine operators for precise searches.
With all these different operators, it might be hard to imagine how exactly they bring up the results that they are said to bring up. A great visual of how these terms work is a venn diagram: a certain Boolean term can generate results relating to overlapping topics, separate topics, or a combination of both depending on the order of your Boolean search terms.
Try out Boolean logic the next time you conduct a search–you’ll be surprised at the results. For more useful search strategies, contact Law Father.