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Basic Search Syntax

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Using the tools of basic search syntax, the researcher has the opportunity to tell the computer exactly what to look for and how to look for it.

The most commonly used tools are Boolean logic, truncation, proximity operators, and nesting.  Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) links terms to define how the computer will look for the terms you have used.

AND means that all terms linked using AND must appear in the document retrieved.
OR means that as long as either term is there, the document will be retrieved.

NOT means that documents containing that particular term should not be retrieved.
So for instance a search for price AND toothpaste will retrieve documents containing both the word “price” and the word “toothpaste.”

Truncation helps account for the various endings of a word root, so that the searcher can broaden a search by truncating selected terms. 

A search for pric?  AND toothpaste would retrieve documents containing the word “toothpaste” as well as variations on “price,” including “pricing” and “prices.”  The truncation symbol varies according to the database:

Database  Truncation Symbol

Factiva             $
Dialog             ?
LexisNexis             !
PubMed            *

Proximity operators allow the searcher to limit the results to documents where the selected terms are near each other in some way. 

The search string price w/3 toothpaste would find documents in which “price” was within three words of “toothpaste,” regardless of word order. 

“Market share” is an example of a term that benefits from using proximity operators, since market w/5 share would retrieve documents containing “market share” as well as those containing “share of the market.” 

As with truncation symbols, proximity operators vary, depending upon the search service you are using, so check the help screens.

Nesting is simply a way to help the computer search for terms in the order you specify.  A nested search string resembles an algebraic expression.  Let’s examine this search statement:

market w/5 share and (toothpaste OR tooth powder OR dentifrice)
The parentheses tells the computer to look for records that contain the word “toothpaste,” or the phrase “tooth powder,” or the word “dentifrice,” then to examine that set of records and limit it to those that also contain the word “market” within five words of “share.”


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