Boolean Search: A Lost Art
Boolean rules are designed to make searching a database effective. But in an age of smartphones and where internet literacy is assumed, are Boolean rules becoming a lost art?
My thoughts on Boolean searching as a lost art came to me when helping my little sister job hunt. She was using natural, everyday language to search and ending up with a wide variety of topics. I was surprised she hadn’t been taught about Boolean searching. I was still in grade school when search engines started to become more advanced – between 1997 with Ask Jeeves to 1998 with Google – so naturally, we had to learn how to use them.
Granted, Google’s natural language search is incredible with the amount of data they take in from 3.5 billion searches per day. But, when speaking to a large database, using Boolean rules will outperform natural language every time. Specifically, for intricate, multi-part searches – such as job hunting, educational course comparisons, sports statistics, or sifting through most types of big data. Boolean is still common for internal site searches. And, interestingly enough, a petite version is still used in Google AdWords to broaden searches or identify phrases and negative keywords.
So, here is a crash course (or crash refresher) on basic Boolean rule searching.
Emphasis on the crash course bit—I don’t want to keep you here all day.
Boolean Rule Searching
In a nutshell, this is how to combine words and phrases using operating keywords or symbols to create complex searches, giving you the ability to narrow, widen, or define a search.
Operating Keywords and Symbols
These connect and define the items you are searching for:
AND or “+”
- Russia AND Uruguay
- Search results will be narrowed down to include information on these two countries combined. (Which should be pretty narrow. I mean it’s Russia and Uruguay; they’re quite far apart.)
NOT or “-“
- Spain NOT Morocco
- Define your search for everything about Spain that does not include Morocco. This type of search can be quite helpful as the neighboring countries have loads of history together.
- Brazil OR Germany
- Expand your search results to include results on these two countries individually or together. Using OR will give you the most results for the items you are searching for
Note: OR is the default operating keyword when a blank space is used in a typical search, aka natural language search – when entering Jobs in New York and Philadelphia in into a search engine, the search is performed as Jobs OR in OR New OR York AND Philadelphia.
- “world cup scores”
- You can capture a phrase by adding quotation marks. The search engine will now look for these words in a specific order and will not automatically enter the word OR where a blank space is found.
- Parentheses isolate sections of a larger more complex search
Combination of Operating Keywords and Symbols
- “world cup scores” AND (Mexico OR Croatia NOT Argentina)
- “world cup scores”+(Mexico Croatia -Argentina)
Note: when using symbols, leave no spaces on either side of the “+” and a single space in front of “ -“.
Combining the keywords and symbols defines the search request to Mexico or Croatia’s World Cup Scores, while not including any cross-reference information about Argentina. (Sorry Argentina, I don’t mean to pick on you, I know this World Cup has been rough.)
Additional Defining Symbols
- The asterisk allows for the addition of a single letter or multiple letters relating to the first word in the search. Football* will display results like Footballs, Football Scores, Football Stats, Football Games, etc
Note: the asterisks star “*” may be replaced with a question mark “?” in some databases.
While you can use Boolean search rules on major search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo, they are also effective in general search areas of websites that hold numerous options and results–such as job boards and post-secondary College or Universities.
There, now you have all the basic Boolean rule information to start searching effectively. Happy Searching! Although, before you go I’d like to pay homage to history.
The search term Boolean Rules was originally created as Boolean Logic by an Englishman named George Boole in the 19thcentury. In 1854 he wrote The Laws of Thought which describes his theories of logic and algebra. George was the son of a shoemaker and a self-taught mathematician. Self-taught! And the man’s work managed to help pave the way for the information age. To me, that is incredible and deserving of immortalization in a term. I may not be big on algebra, but I do love history, the internet, and a reminder of our humble beginnings.