What's in this article:
- How to use Boolean logic to narrow your search more precisely
- Using the AND operator
- Using the OR operator
- Using the NOT operator
- Using Parentheses
Boolean operators are used to connect your search terms, and can be used to either narrow or broaden your search results. Learn more about the AND, OR, and NOT operators, and how they work on JSTOR, below:
This is the default Boolean operator, and using it will narrow your search results by telling the search engine to return results that have BOTH/ALL search terms present.
For example, when we search JSTOR for scholarly content about unicorns, we get a very large set of results.
Suppose a scholar is specifically researching the claim that unicorns appear to maidens. In that case, refining this set of results by adding the term “maiden” will decrease the number of results they have to sift through to find that perfect article.
All 119 results will include both the term “unicorns” and the term “maidens.”
Using this Boolean operator will expand your search results by telling the search engine to return results that have EITHER/ANY of the search terms present.
If a researcher wanted to expand their results to include texts that mention unicorns, and include results that mention narwhal as well, the OR operator would expand that search
This unicorn researcher now has a slightly expanded list of results to peruse. The OR operator also works well if you want to include multiple synonyms in the same search.
Using this Boolean operator will narrow your search results by telling the search engine to exclude results that have a particular search term present.
If a researcher is seeing too many results that are not relevant to their research, finding a common theme in those results and excluding it can be helpful. If a researcher were only looking for scholarship that mentions unicorns or narwhals, but doesn't want to see any results that talk about film, the following query would work:
This set of results is smaller than the previous one, and no longer includes any content that includes the word, "film."
When your search query includes multiple Boolean operators, it is important to group them appropriately.
In the above example, (unicorn OR narwhal) is a sub-query. By grouping the terms this way, you are telling the search engine what terms must be present and what terms are optional. This eliminates any confusion and ensures that maiden must exist, that either unicorn and narwhal may exist, but that the term "film" should not exist