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What to Put in a Search Box

Strategies for efficient searching.

In This Guide


Using AND, OR, and NOT to connect your search terms together will help you find exactly what you're looking for. These words, known as Boolean operators, tell a database how you want your search terms to relate to each other.

Once you understand how AND, OR, and NOT impact your search, be sure to continue to the next tab of this guide.

Using AND

Use AND in a search to:

  • make your search smaller so you get fewer results.
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the results.

Example: cloning AND humans AND ethics.

In the image below, the center of the Venn diagram where the 3 circles overlap (shaded area in center) represents the results for this search. All results would contain the words cloning, ethics, and humans.

Image demonstrating the concept of AND. The center of the Venn diagram where the 3 circles overlap represents the results for the search for cloning AND humans AND ethics. All results would contain the words cloning, ethics, and humans.

Many library databases automatically search with AND between search terms unless you specify otherwise -- just like Google.

Using OR

Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms).
  • get more results.
  • tell the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the results -- even if it's just one of them.

Example: teacher OR instructor OR professor.

As demonstrated in the image below, your results could come from any of the circles in the Venn diagram (all areas are shaded). Each result will contain one or more of your terms: teacher, instructor, or professor.

Venn diagram demonstrating the concept of OR. Every portion of all 3 intersecting circles is highlighted. Results will contain articles that contain any one or combination of the search terms (teacher, instructor, or professor).

Using NOT

Use NOT in a search to:

  • tell the database to exclude unwanted words that may otherwise come up in your search.
  • make your search smaller so you get fewer, more focused results.

Example: Apple NOT fruit (if trying to find information on the company rather than the fruit).

As demonstrated in the Venn diagram below, your results would include only the part of the Apple circle that does not overlap with the fruit circle.

Venn diagram has 2 intersecting circles for apple and fruit. The apple section is highlighted to show that results with the term fruit will be excluded. The part where apply and fruit overlap is not shaded.

Beware! Using NOT can exclude potentially useful results so use it carefully. If you're having trouble, ask a librarian.

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Creative Commons NonCommercial license - Wikipedia

This work by the Consortium Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License and is based on MIT Libraries' Database Search Tips (CC-BY-NC). Note that linked content is covered by its own licenses.

We encourage you to license your derivative works under Creative Commons as well to encourage sharing and reuse of educational materials.

Guide Owner

This guide is maintained by D'Arcy Hutchings.