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Truncation Symbols and Boolean Operators: Home

Truncation Symbols and Boolean Operators

Truncation symbols and Boolean operators are fancy terms for tricks you can use to make your database searches more precise.

For the examples on this page, imagine you are researching how media literacy can be effectively taught to middle school children.

Truncation Symbols

Truncation symbols help you make your search more precise.  The most common symbols are double quotation marks, asterisks, and question marks.

If you search like this... The effect is.... Notes
Double quotation marks - “”
E.g.: “middle school”
The phrase you type must appear the exact way you typed it in the exact order you typed it. Misspellings will produce few or no results. This strategy will exclude records in which a relevant term appears with words in between those in the quotation marks.
Asterisk - *
Eg.: litera*
The asterisk allows for multiple endings to a word. This example will produce results including: literate, literacy, literature, literary.
 
Make sure you place the asterisk appropriately so you don’t get terms that don’t apply. Literature and literary may not apply in this case.
Question mark - ?
wom?n
The question mark replaces individual letters in words that have multiple spellings, such as differences between British and US spellings. This example will produce results that include woman, women, womyn. Does not replace multiple letters, even if they are consecutive.

Boolean Operators

If you search like this... The effect is... Results may look like... (click to enlarge) # of results
media literacy middle school

Using no operator and including all search terms on one line will return results that have all or most of those words in the record, ordered by which results have those words the most times in the record.

Note: Unlike Google, most academic databases do not work well when you type many words or complete sentences in one search box without Boolean operators. It is best to separate terms by Boolean operators or use the database's "Advanced Search" feature to put your terms on separate lines, as shown below this chart.

Search results for an article, "Critical Media Literacy in Middle School" and a book, "The Digital Youth Network." Highlighted search terms and phrases include media literacy; middle school; literacy, middle; and school. 82,246
"media literacy" AND "middle school" All search results must contain both terms. Usually reduces the number of results. Search results for an article, "Critical Media Literacy in Middle School" and a book, "The Digital Youth Network." Highlighted search terms and phrases include media literacy; middle school; literacy, middle; and school. 2,309
"media literacy" OR "middle school" Search results can contain one or both terms. Only one term must be present in each item returned.  Usually increases the number of results. Search Results show an article "Middle School Students' Analysis of Political Memes to Support Critical Media Literacy" and a book, "Content matters: social studies in the elementary and middle school." Highlighted terms for the first item include middle school; media literacy; media and literacy. "Middle school" is the only highlighted search phrase in the entry for the book.. 365,532
"media literacy" NOT "middle school" Any word following NOT should not be present in any item returned. Helps you exclude results you know you don’t need. Usually reduces the number of results. Search results include a book called "Media Literacy," a journal called "The Journal of Media Literacy Education" and a book called "Educating media literacy." Media literacy is the only phrase highlighted from the search terms entered. 21,363

You can achieve a Boolean effect by using an Advanced search screen to put each keyword on a separate line and selecting the appropriate operator as shown below.  Reminder: Unlike Google, most academic databases do not work well when you type many words or complete sentences in one search box.  It is best to separate terms by Boolean operators or use the database's "Advanced Search" function.  Two or three words can be used together one line if necessary to describe a specific idea, or when searching with proper nouns (e.g. when searching for an individual's name or a place).  Otherwise, use as few words as possible on each line or between each Boolean operator.

 

The JumpStart advanced search box with the "JumpStart" radio button selected. The first line under search filters shows "Any field > contains > media literacy." The second line shows the drop down options in the first slot on the second line, which include AND, OR, NOT. This is followed by "contains > middle school."