Search operators

Once you have selected the search terms you need to search for information, for example for a project on solar energy, you need search operators to combine your search terms, to exclude a specific search term, to indicate that you are looking for a phrase instead of separate words, or to search for several word endings at once.

 Boolean operators

For your project on solar energy you may want to search for documents containing both the words energy and solar. Or for either the word energy or power. Or you may want to look for information about alternatives for solar energy, and search for energy without solar.
Use the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT to combine your search terms into the appropriate search queries:

Image of Boolean operators

In Google or Google Scholar you do not need to add the operator AND, and a minus symbol is used instead of the operator NOT.

Nesting (brackets)

When using several Boolean operators in one search query, it is important to realise that different search systems process Boolean operators differently:

  • some will first combine terms with NOT, then AND, and then OR;
  • others will simply process the operators from left to right, in the order in which they appear.

If you want to be sure your query is processed in the way you intend, please use brackets to indicate the order in which you want the operators to be processed. The brackets overrule the default settings of the search system (if necessary).

Web of Science Core Collection Scopus
WoSCC processes first Not, then OR, then AND:

power OR energy AND solar

is interpreted as

power OR (energy AND solar)

This means that in the example below, queries 1 and 3 yield the same number of results.

Scopus processes operators from left to right:

power OR energy AND solar

is interpreted as

(power OR energy) AND solar

This means that in the example below, queries 1 and 2 yield the same number of results.

Search History: Web of Science TM Core Collection Scopus Search history
#3  538,328 TITLE: (energy OR (power AND solar)) 3 TITLE (power OR (energy AND solar)) 536,573 document results
#2  16,418   TITLE: ((energy OR power) AND solar) 2 TITLE ((power OR energy) AND solar) 21,795 document results
#1  538,328 TITLE: (energy OR power AND solar) 1 TITLE (power OR energy AND solar) 21,795 document results

Check the help file of the search system you are using to find out which operators are allowed and what the processing order is!

Phrase search

If you are searching for a phrase (i.e., two or more words that belong together), you need to use double quotation marks around the phrase to indicate that the words should not be searched for separately.
For example, searching for space tourism (without quotation marks) and “space tourism” gives you a very different set of results:

search for:

space tourism

results:

  • The role of institutions in the production of space for tourism: National Forest Parks in China
  • Investigating the motivation-experience relationship in a dark tourism space
  • Constructing globalized spaces of tourism and leisure
search for:

space tourism

results:

  • The Anticipated Futures of Space Tourism
  • A preliminary examination of the relationship between consumer attitude towards space travel and the development of innovative space tourism technology
  • HyPlane: The business case of a small hypersonic airplane for point-to-point and space tourism flights

Wildcards

Wildcards can be added to a part of a search term to search for several word endings at the same time. The most common wildcard is the asterisk (*), which is used to replace 0 or more characters.
In some search systems you can also use a question mark or dollar sign to replace 0 or 1 characters, and sometimes you are allowed to use a wildcard at the beginning of a word.

Check the help file of the search system you are using for information on the wildcards it allows.

Wildcards can sometimes give you a large number of irrelevant results. Always evaluate the search results, and if the number of irrelevant results is too large, you may want to skip the wildcards and enter the different search terms in full.

Searching for Search query Found (relevant) Found (not relevant)
dam

(singular + plural)

dam* dam

dams

damage

damping

system

(singular + plural)

system* system

systems

systemic

systematic

compare, comparison

(+ variations)

compar* compare

comparing

comparison

comparative

compartment

compartmentalize

Proximity operators

Some search systems allow the use of proximity operators such as NEAR, W (“within”) or AROUND to indicate that two search terms must appear near each other. See the following table for a few examples, or check the help file of the search system you are using for more information.

Database Proximity opearator Example and explanation Explanation
 Web of Science Core Collection NEAR/n energy NEAR/15 solar The words “energy” and “solar” must appear within 15 words of each other.
 Scopus PRE/n solar PRE/3 energy The word “solar” precedes the word “energy”  by 3 or fewer words.
W/n energy W/50 solar The word “solar” must appear within 50 words of the word “energy”. It does not matter in which order the words appear.
 Google scholar AROUND(n) energy AROUND (15) solar The words “energy” and “solar” must appear within 15 words of each other.
n=3-5:     the words appear in the same phrase

n=ca. 15: the words appear in the same sentence

n=ca. 50: the words appear in the same paragraph

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