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SOCI 201 - Introduction to Sociology - Liu

Using Quotes to Narrow your Search

One thing students struggle with is finding too much irrelevant information in the databases. This is because of one very specific problem: computers are literal. They will search for your words wherever they can, which means you might get a result that uses your words in a different context.

One way you can help them understand you is to use quotation marks in your search to ensure the database or search engine looks for those words together as a phrase. Be on the lookout for words that provide a specific meaning the word it comes before to after.

This table provides examples of words with multiple contexts and how you can use that information to change your search.
Words with Multiple Contexts Words that Describe Previous Word Type in search box, In quotes
school high, elementary, charter "charter school"
games Olympic, video, board "video games"
tiger cat, Woods, king, Detroit "Tiger Woods"

How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Modifiers "", *, ( )

"  " - Searches as an exact phrase
- Truncates a term to search for varied endings
( ) - Tells the database to do this part first

Boolean Operators


The default searches for your words within the same element using the word "and". This means that both words must be present. So if you were looking for a pizza with pepperoni AND mushrooms, you would not want one with only pepperoni or only mushrooms. Both ingredients must be on the pizza.


The word "or" is used to tell the database that as long as one or the other of your words show up, you would like to see it. If you wanted pizza with pepperoni OR mushrooms, you would be given all the options that have either pepperoni or mushrooms, including those that have both pepperoni and mushrooms.


You can use the word NOT to tell the database that you want certain things but not other things. If you would be happy with pepperoni OR mushrooms on your pizza but olives gross you out, you can tell the database not to include them with NOT. 

How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Operators (AND OR NOT)

AND - Finds all the words
OR - Finds either of the words
NOT - Excludes a word from search