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Anthropology: Essential Search Techniques

Essential Search Techniques: Boolean Operators, Truncation, and Phrases

Almost all bibliographic databases, as well as Quick Find, allow you to use Boolean operators, truncation, and phrases in your search statements. Using these can make your searches more effective.

Boolean Operators

The Boolean operators (named after 19th-century logician George Boole) are AND, OR, and NOT.

         cat AND dog    This retrieves items that have the word cat and the word dog.
  cat OR dog This retrieves items that have the word cat or the word dog.
  cat NOT dog This retrieves items that have the word cat but not the word dog. Use this with caution.


Boolean operators can be grouped with parentheses:

(cat OR feline) AND (dog OR canine)

Note: Most search engines do not require that Boolean operators be in capital letters. However, Quick Find and a few database search engines do. If in doubt, capitalize.


Truncation is used to retrieve items having various forms of words. It is especially useful for finding singular and plural forms of nouns.

In most database search engines, the truncation symbol is the asterisk ( * ).

pastoral*    This retrieves items that have pastoral, pastoralism, pastoralist, pastoralists, pastorally, etc.


Phrases are sequences of words that appear together in the order specified. Use quotation marks ( " . . . " ) to indicate phrases.

"cultural anthropology"   This retrieves items having this phrase, but not items in which cultural appears somewhere and anthropology appears somewhere else, but not next to each other in that order.

Phrases and Truncation Together

Some search engines allow you to use phrases and truncation simultaneously.

     "cultural anthropolog*"   This retrieves the phrases cultural anthropology, cultural anthropologist, etc.