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Power searching and Boolean searching: Catalogue search guide

Use the SFU Library Catalogue to find books, articles, films, government documents, journals, newspapers, maps, and other media in the Library's collection.

Typing keywords from a combination of your topic, title, and/or an author's last name into either the Catalogue Basic search box, or using the provided fields in the Catalogue Advanced search, will often get you the result(s) you need from the Library's collections. 

However for certain types of searching, especially subject or topic searches, you may need to use more advanced techniques.

Power searching tips and tricks in Basic search and Advanced search

Search for a specific phrase

Use quotation marks to search for phrases.

For instance, searching for "truth and reconciliation" will retrieve articles, books, and other resources that refer to this exact phrase, rather than articles or books that happen to contain the two separate words. 

You can also use this strategy to search for exact titles, or parts of titles, in articles, books, or other materials.

Search for an exact word

To search for an exact word, and not variations of it, put quotation marks around it.

For instance, searching for "ableism" will retrieve articles, books, and other resources that refer to this exact word, and not articles or books with the terms able or ableist. 

Search for variations of the same word: Truncation and wild cards

To find multiple versions of the same words with different endings, use an *, for example:

  • canad* for Canada, Canadian, Canadians, etc.
  • politic* for political, politics, etc.
  • environ* for environment, environmental, environmentalists, and so on.

You can also use ? as a wildcard, for letters that may be different in the middle of a word, for example:

  • wom?n for women or woman
  • analy?e for analyse or analyze

Notes and cautions about truncation and wild cards:

  • You cannot use wildcard characters at the beginning of a word. For example, ?alyze or *alyze will give the same results as searching for alyze. 
  • Using several wildcard or truncation symbols (such as asterisks and question marks) can cause searches to fail when combining with an "OR" operator

When there is more than one word or phrase to describe a topic, or you are searching for more than one related topic, type OR (in capital letters) between your terms to retrieve results for all of them. For example:

  • myanmar OR burma
  • "global warming" OR "climate change"
  • ethic* OR moral*
  • employee* OR staff OR worker*

Caution: Using more than three wildcard or truncation symbols in an OR search can cause the search to fail.

Excluding terms from your search ("NOT" searching)

To make sure unrelated terms don't appear in your search results, type NOT (in capital letters) to exclude specific terms. For example:

  • salmon NOT recipe*
  • java NOT coffee
  • "rheumatoid arthritis" NOT juvenile

Use NOT with extreme caution: It is easy to accidentally exclude relevant results by using NOT commands. 

Combining search terms and power search techniques

In Basic search

Use parentheses or brackets to hold together searches, then combine them. For example:

  •  security AND (law OR legislat* OR regulat*) AND canad*
  • ("additional language" OR "second language") AND acquisition AND adult*

In Advanced search

Use the different fields to combine multiple searches, for example:

in the first field: security; in the second field: law OR legislat* OR regulat*; in the third field: canad*

Personalize results

To "boost" resources from specific  disciplines to the top of your results list, click on the switch to Personalize and then select up to five subject disciplines. 

Once these preferences are in place, you'll see the Personalized option switched on at the top of search results, and new options to edit your choice of disciplines.

Search term "halibut," with toggle switch showing Personalized option has been selected.

Browse search

Browse search shows you a list of search terms, and allows you to search by author, subject, title, or call number. For tips on Browse search and how it works, see How to find books.

Note that Browse search does NOT include articles, chapters, entries in encyclopedias, etc.

Questions and help

For more help, ask a Librarian.