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The University of Bolton Library

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Search Tips

The following search tips work on lots of online search tools, including Discover@Bolton. They can help you to broaden your results (find more content) or refine your results (find fewer but more specific results). 

Phrase searching

Phrase searching can help you get more specific search results. 

Phrases can be two (or more) words that when combined have a specific meaning. Many subject areas have commonly used phrases, such as: 

  • health promotion
  • digital marketing
  • renewable energy
  • cognitive behavioural therapy

Phrase searching is when you use quotation marks to find an exact phrase. For Example: "health promotion" The quotation marks ensure that the search tool will only return results with your phrase exactly as you have entered it, i.e. only results with “health promotion” rather than all results containing the words health or promotion.

Phrase searching works on a wide range of search tools - including Discover@Bolton, many of our databases and even Google and Google Scholar too. When using phrase searching you may find you get fewer results, but they should be more specific. Why not try it out!

A word of warning: don't put very long phrases (such as your assignment title) in speech marks. The search tool will be looking for that exact combination of words. It is better to pull a few key phrases out of a longer title and search for those.

Boolean Searching

Boolean searching (or Boolean logic) is a series of commands: AND, OR and NOT. They can be used in a range of ways to both narrow and broaden your results. 

 

AND

AND can help you get more specific results. 

Many search tools add AND automatically 

 

OR

OR can broaden your results. Instead of searching for one thing, it tells a search tool "I am interested in this OR this". This is particularly useful where you have identified synonyms (multiple names or terms) for a subject you are interested in. 

A search of health OR wellbeing would return results that mentioned either term. Alternatively a search of health AND wellbeing would only return results that mentioned both. 

OR can work with phrase searching too: "healthy living" OR "healthy lifestyles" would return results that mentioned either phrase. 

The more ORs you add, the more you are broadening your search. You may get a lot of results, so use carefully!

 

NOT

NOT is a way of telling a search tool what you don't want. NOT is useful when you find you are getting a lot of irrelevant results. 

You may, for example, want to consider aspects of teenage drinking that don't include binge drinking. This example combines AND and OR with NOT, to both broaden the search and remove the term binge drinking: 

  • teenagers OR adolescents AND alcohol NOT "binge drinking" 

Synonyms

Synonyms are alternative words or phrases which mean the same thing. You can use the Boolean operator OR to include synonyms in your searches.

For example:

  • Free OR Liberated
  • NHS OR National Health Service

Parentheses

To make even better use of Boolean operators, you can use parentheses to nest query terms within other query terms.

For example:

  • (essay OR report) AND “clothing manufacturers”

You can enclose search terms and their operators in parentheses to specify the order in which they are interpreted. Information within parentheses is read first, then information outside parentheses is read next.

Truncation

Truncation is when you use the * symbol to search for words which begin with the same letters.

For example:

  • econ*

By using the * you will retrieve results such as economics, economy, economical etc

Wildcards

Wildcards are used to search for alternative spellings. You can use the ? or * symbol to replace the required letter.

For example:

  • organi?ation

You may find that some databases do this for you automatically. It’s worth checking the help button on the database you are using to check.