Below are search techniques that work with most databases (i.e. the library catalog, New York Times database and the MLA Interational Bibliography). For search techniques that work in Google see their Punctuation, Symbols and Operators list.
Boolean operators are terms like AND, OR, NOT which help to limit or expand your search. Some databases and search engines like Google require AND, OR, NOT to be capitalized. To play it safe, it is best to capitalize these terms regardless of the database you are using.
This search finds articles that discuss either jazz or blues.
OR always broadens a search.
This search finds articles that compare jazz and blues.
AND always narrows a search.
This search finds articles that are exclusively about jazz.
NOT always excludes records with the specified term.
For example, here is what a search for Toni Morrison AND Jazz OR Blues would look like in the MLA database:
A wildcard is a symbol that takes the place of an unknown character or set of characters. Commonly used wildcards are the asterisk ( * ) and the question mark ( ? ).
The question mark ( ? )
The asterisk ( * )
Truncation uses an asterisk ( * ) to search for multiple forms of the same word. It is similar to or the same as using a wildcard.
Quotation Marks group words together:
Parentheses indicate precisely what you are searching for or isolate part of a query: