Searching Using Keywords and Boolean Logic – Other Boolean Operators & Connectors

Most electronic service providers (Quicklaw, Westlaw, CanLII, HeinOnline etc.) offer help menus that describe the different Boolean connectors and operators.

Some databases assign different symbols to certain operators, and other databases may not support a full array of operators. The default may also change depending on the database you are using. For example, in one database a group of words without specific Boolean commands constitutes a "phrase", in others the space is treated as "or". Use the help menus to get an idea of which Boolean operators may be used with each database!

Video 1.1 Boolean Operators in Key Legal Databases

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Not all databases use the same search criteria and it is important to know how to effectively use the search features of the chosen database. For each of the key legal databases here, this screencast shows where you can find more information on how to effectively formulate a search.

Starting with the AZIMUT or SOQUIJ database, from the homepage, click "Services aux citoyens", "Trouver une décision", "Aide à la recherche et soutien technique", and "Comment formuler les recherches". And here is a document outlining how to formulate a search string for the various types of searches available. This particular database uses a limited number of Boolean operators.

Next, CanLII has a very accessible tool or memory aid built into the search bar. Just scroll over the question mark for a list of Boolean operators used by this database along with what they mean, as well as an example of their use. For additional information, click on the "help page" link, where you will find more detailed descriptions, additional operators or modifiers that can be used and tips on sorting results. This page should be consulted if you are having difficulty finding your desired results.

HeinOnline provides a "Search Syntax" pop-up when you click on "Search Help". This lists all Boolean operators that you can use and when they should be used. You should note that these operators must use capital letters in this database. For more information, you can click "Advanced Search Syntax Guide".

From the homepage of La reference, scroll over "Aide" in the top right corner and then on either "Conseils de recherche" or "Liste des opérateurs". This will bring you to a detailed research help page. Most links within the page lead to other sections within the page. So you can either scroll through or use the links to find the "Opérateurs de recherche" or other search tips.

In LexisNexis Quicklaw, you can find a short summary of how you can use Boolean operators in your search under the Basic Search box. Additional information can be found by clicking "search tips" below, or under various guides found by clicking "Help Guides & Tutorials" under Resources & Tools. A lot of these guides can be very useful.

Click on "Search Tips" above the WestlawNext Canada search bar for information about formatting a search for this database. Many basic Boolean terms are not automatically triggered and can only be used as part of an advanced search, as seen here.

It is important to note that the omission of connectors has a default setting that varies from one database to another. Most default to AND searches (where all terms entered are required) or OR searches (where any of the terms are required). Quicklaw searches the exact phrase by default (this means that the terms must appear as they were entered). Make sure you know how a particular database is interpreting your search string. And happy searching!

Combining Boolean Operators

In order to fully take advantage of Boolean logic, you need to start playing around with the multiple connectors and operators on your own.

Before long you will start to get a feel for what works and what does not; it is a matter of practice and familiarity!

Above all, remember that there is always more than one way to locate legal material and that keywords – while very important – are relatively useless unless they are combined using a string of properly conceived Boolean logic!