Library Blog

Basics of Boolean for Legal Research

Man looking through magnifying glass

Sometimes when the law librarians mention Boolean searching in legal research classes they get confused and scared looks. If they rephrase it and say terms and connectors searching they get some confused looks, but not as many scared faces. However, you probably have been using elements of Boolean searching your whole life, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. If you put quotes around a phrase to limit your results in Google, you are practicing the most commonly used Boolean searching technique! Whether you call it Boolean searching or terms and connectors searching (or you really don’t have a name for it), the concept is important and not at all terrifying! 

The first step to searching for documents on an unknown topic when you don’t have a citation to start from is to come up with words, phrases, and synonyms. These would be the terms.

The second step is to figure out how to make a statement using the words “and”, “or”, and “not” in the search box with these terms in order to maximize efficiency. The words “And”, “Or”, and “Not” are the connectors.

Once you have the hang of those connectors, you can start using different ones to increase your proficiency at legal research! For example, see /p in Westlaw and W/3 in Lexis!

The Legal Beagle’s all-time favorite video which explains Boolean searching is called “What the Heck is Boolean Searching and is an absolute gem!

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