SOWK 536: Policy and Advocacy in Professional Social Work: Search Strategies and Techniques

Research guide for students in SOWK 536.

Strategic Searching

Search Operators (Boolean Searching)

What are Boolean Operators?

Boolean operators are used by databases to focus searches. Three boolean operators are most recognized by databases: AND, OR, NOT. When using the operators, use them in all CAPS.


  • Use AND to tell the database that your search results must include both or all of your keywords
  • It helps to narrow your results by combining keywords
  • It helps when searching a broad topic, to retrieve fewer results 
  • Example: higher education AND online learning will retrieve results that include are relevant to higher education in relation to online learning


  • Use OR to connect two or more similar concepts

  • It helps to broaden your search and retrieve more results

  • When using this operator, not all results will contain both concepts

  • Example: online learning OR distance education


  • Use NOT to exclude concepts from your search
  • It helps to narrow your search because it excludes concepts
  • It tells the database to ignore results related to a keyword
  • Example: online learning NOT "graduate school" will retrieve results that are relevant to online learning but exclude all results that are related to graduate school


Google Scholar Search Tips

Use only the important words rather than a full sentence or question. 

  • Not ideal:  what is best intervention for adolescents with an eating disorder 
  • Better:  intervention adolescent eating disorder 
  • All the words you include in your search will be used to find matching content. 
    • Too many words will limit your results.
  • Find synonyms of your keywords and try different searches. 
    • intervention - prevention, treatment, assessment
    • adolescent- teenager, teen, young adult

Use quotes to search for an exact word or set of words in a specific order.

  • Example: "psychosocial theory" or "dialectical behavioral therapy" 
  • Tip: Only use this if you're looking for a very precise word or phrase, because otherwise you could be excluding helpful results.
Google adds the word AND between each search term.
  • You type in: eating disorder intervention --> Google looks for: eating AND disorder AND intervention
  • Exception: when using quotation marks in exact phrase searching

Searches are not case sensitive. 

  • Search terms can be inputted in lower or upper case - therapy, Therapy, THERAPY.
  • Exception: Boolean operator OR
    • Typing in teenage OR adolescent pregnancy will bring up items that use the teenage or adolescent to describe the population.
    • Here's an example (video):