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Boolean Searches

How to Launch Effective Boolean Searches

If your Web searches are not returning the kind of information you're looking for, try not to take it personally, but it's probably the way you're conducting your searches. Refine your search query using special keywords called "Boolean" (pronounced BOO-lee-an) operators. These nifty little words can narrow your search and reduce the amount of irrelevant material (referred to in geekspeak as "crappola") that comes up as a result of overly broad searches.

I don't like to brag, but when it comes to crappola, millions of people worldwide think first of Mr. Modem. I sincerely hope you're one of them.

The technical definition of Boolean is "of or relating to a logical combinatorial system utilizing variables, such as propositions and computer logic elements, through the operators AND, OR, NOT, IF, THEN and EXCEPT." Try tossing that gem out at the next garden club luncheon and you're likely to be beaten to death with a shovel.

In simple Mr. Modemspeak, Boolean searches include the words AND, OR, NOT, and NEAR. When used in conjunction with your search keywords, these operators help narrow or refine your searches.

Basic rules to follow when launching Boolean searches:

1. Use the word AND to search for information containing more than one keyword. For example, if you type "Internet AND legislation," your query will give you only information containing both of your keywords.

2. Use the word OR to search for results containing at least one of your keywords. For example, "munchkins OR leprechauns" would return any document that contained either of the words.

3. The word NOT tells the search engine to look for results that do not contain the keyword. For example, "pets NOT anaconda."

4. The word NEAR shows results that contain the keywords only when they appear within approximately ten words of each other. For example, "Nixon NEAR resign."

A Boolean search can achieve better results faster than non-Boolean searches and will save you time NOT add to your frustration.

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A Brief History of Booleanism, According to Mr. Modem:

The word "Boolean" derives from George Boole, a British mathematician, 1815-1864, who legend has it, kept misplacing his car keys. Under the influence of noxious modem fumes, he developed an algorithm of symbolic logic that permitted him to retrace his steps and find his keys through his unique form of logical deduction:

"I don't have my keys. Where do I last remember having them? I had them at the health club, NOT in the golf cart. I thought I had them in my Bermuda shorts, EXCEPT today I was wearing my Dockers."

Through this marginally fascinating process of elimination and search refinement, Boolean logic emerged. Remarkably unchanged since the passing of Mr. Boole in 1864, Boolean logic is still in use today -- which explains why most of us can't find anything on the Internet.

All kidding aside, if you spend a lot of time utilizing the Internet -- and who doesn't -- it's in your best interest to master the art of conducting efficient and effective searches. Understanding which search engine to use is the key to achieving the best results from your search queries. Mr. Modem's favorite search engine is Google.

If you get into the habit of including a few Boolean search operators to refine your searches, you'll be amazed at how quickly you be able to find just about anything in the vast informational cosmos known as the World Wide Web. Unfortunately, you'll also be pestered unmercifully by Boolean-impaired friends and family, clamoring for your assistance to help them find information, as well.

Happy searching!

Additional Boolean Resources

Boolean Operators

Boolean Searches

How Boolean Logic Works

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