4.4 Boolean and Phrase Searching

Boolean searching:

Connecting words, also known as Boolean operators, tell the computer which keywords you want your results to include or exclude. The most common Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT.

Truncation and wildcards:

You can also use special characters on your keyboard, known as truncation symbols or wildcards, to search for variations on the spelling of a word, alternative endings of a word, or singular and plural forms. The most common truncation symbol is *.

The Library’s advanced keyword search in the catalogue prompts you to use Boolean operators in dropdown menus. Most databases prompt you to use Boolean searching.

Phrase searching:

Sometimes it is important to search for the exact phrase you require. The term “human rights” is a phrase. If you search for the word “human” AND “rights” using the Boolean operator AND, you will retrieve millions of items with both words appearing anywhere in the text.

Here is a CrossSearch without phrase searching.

Try the same search, this time as a phrase search in quotation marks. Although your search still yields many results, the phrase “human rights” appears in each bibliographic citation.


The library uses this word is a specific way to indicate how to narrow (or sometimes expand) your search by a list on the side of your search result. Go back to your “human rights” phrase search in CrossSearch.

On the left side of CrossSearch, you can choose facets to narrow your search. Limit your search to peer-reviewed publications with the subject term “human rights” to narrow your search results. Understanding and using facets will assist you in finding useful research material.

Ask a liaison librarian for assistance with Boolean, phrase searching and facets.