Advanced Online Search Techniques


Most people are familiar with the typical search engine search: A user types in a string of words or a phrase, and the search engine combs the Internet to bring back the top results. Users can use advanced search techniques, or Boolean searching, to better focus their search results.

Common Boolean Operators

  • The most common Boolean operators are "and" and "or." By typing two words and connecting them with the word "and," the search will only bring back results that include every word in your search. For instance, searching for "West AND Virginia," you will find results that include both words. This is the same as typing West Virginia in a natural language search; the "and" operator is implied. Using the "or" indicator in between two words will bring back results that contain either word in your search. For instance, a search for "West OR Virginia" would bring back results with the word "West," but not "Virginia," or vice versa. It will also include results that contain all words.

Proximity Searches

  • By using proximity indicators such as "with" or "near," the search results can be further modified. By searching for "West WITH4 Virginia," West and Virginia would have to be adjacent to each other in the specific order it was typed in. The number 4, or any number you choose, indicates how many words are allowed to be between them. The word "near" in between two words allows the words to be adjacent, but in any order. A number can be used here also to indicate the amount of words between the two.

Phrase Searching

  • In order to search for an entire phrase, you must surround the search with quotation marks. For instance, if you wanted to find a quote from a movie, you would surround that quote with quotation marks, and the search will only pull results that contain that whole quote. You can search for multiple phrases by using parenthesis, which is called nesting. For instance, if you search for "(computers OR iPhone) AND software," the search will search for Computers and software, and iPhone and software.


  • Wildcards are typically used to find plurals or misspellings in a search. The most common wildcard is an asterisk, which will search for the word stem with any ending. For instance, searching for "camp*" will bring back results containing "camps," "camping," "camped," etc. An exclamation point in the word tells the search that that letter can be replaced. The most common use for this is searching for "wom!n," which will bring back results containing both "woman" and "women."

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