Google That $**: Narrowing down your searches (Part 2) Using Boolean

Welcome back! So you’ve already mastered some of the basic techniques to improving your google searches, but you’re still hungry for more tips and tricks. Well luckily you’ve got us to share the secrets. Today we’re going to talk about Boolean(Boo-Lee-An) searching. Boolean is a type of logic that creates helps to narrow things down. With Boolean searching you can exclude things, add on additional parameters and just get better results over all. Most search engines are designed to work with Boolean search terms so you will find that knowing these tricks can be very useful across more than just searching Google. If you’ve ever taken a logic course in school some of these concepts may seem familiar to you.

When you enter a phrase into a search bar, the computer then takes that phrase and tries to find it on any webpage. It first tries to match the exact phrase, then tries to match parts of the phrase, then sorts those results in terms of popularity of the websites because, more often then not, commonly clicked on results are going to be more helpful. Using Boolean searching terms will help you be more specific in exactly what you want the search engine to priorities when searching for you.

(NOTE: I will be putting search terms in BOLD to separate them from rest of the text.)

  1. Quotation marks: The most commonly used Boolean used it the quotation marks. It works by telling the search engine you’re not interested in partial results. If I’m looking for the National Karate Team Championship Winner 2001 I don’t want results for some other article somewhere that contained the works Karate Team Championship. So to get around this I can add quotation marks around my search results to tell the search engine to only find what I asked it to. I would want to search “National Karate Team Championship Winner 2001”. Now it’s not guaranteed to find the result but this type of searching is extremely helpful for searching error messages you may see on your computer. You will see quotations used in future examples because of how powerful it is to specify exact phrases when searching.
  2. And: The And operator acts exactly as you would suspect. It lets you search for one term AND another, such as Star Wars and movies. By default most search engines will already use this behind the scenes. So for example if you search Star Wars Movies it technically be the same as Star And Wars And Movies. To effectively use AND you will want to use other Boolean in conjunction with it. A better search might be “Star Wars” and “movies” this will only return results with the exact phrase Star Wars and pages that also include movies.
  3. Or: The Or operator very similar to the And operator. This will allow you to search similar terms but give you more broad results. Since we now know that And operators are typically added to searches you can use Or operators to broaden your results. So you could search Star Wars original trilogy(which we know has invisible ands between all the words) and you would get very narrowed down results. If you wanted to broaden it you could search “Star Wars” or “original trilogy” and get results that include “Star wars” or “original trilogy”.
  4. Excluding words: You are also able to exclude words in your search phrases by using the – key. So for example you could search star -wars and you would only get results containing star. You can also use the excluding words operator in front of things in quotes so you could search -“star wars” movies and only get results containing movies.
  5. Commonly Ignored Words: Search engines typically ignore bridging words some examples include works like: that, the, this, which, a, all, he, she. These are known as stop words. They are so commonly used that they aren’t very helpful when searching the internet. (Here is a list of English stop words) Now there may some times when you actually want the stop words to be searched. You can use things like the + operator and the Quotation marks to make sure they get included. For example +that star wars movie or “that star wars movie” will add the stop word that into your search.
Image of a person with and, or, not written on their knuckles

The truly hardcore use Boolean!

These tips can seem a bit overwhelming but luckily there is a cheat sheet that the Library of Berkeley has created that I find very helpful!

Thank you for taking the time to read our articles! If you know of any tips for using search engines please leave a message on our Facebook page. If you found this or any other article on useful feel free to share it with anyone you think might benefit from it.

Charles Potter

Like what you've learned?

Help us out by telling your friends!