Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

Boolean Searching for Grants Research – It’s not string theory!



Author: Kate Sunners


booleansearchI'm just going to jump straight in and say it, I love online research. I love poking into the nooks and crannies of the internet to find facts and I love knowing the most efficient ways to pinpoint exactly what it is I need. Like a spider, surfing the web...hmmm...anyway... I'm better at searching than I am at metaphors, so I thought I'd share some of my tips with you for those times when you need to find a specific statistic, fact or figure but have no idea where to start looking. Google's pretty clever at working out what you want but sometimes you need to be cleverer!

To get the most out of your search, you'll need to know a few little Boolean search tips.

First up – the most useful and probably best known Boolean operators are these little guys " "

Using inverted commas around a search phrase like "Western Australia" ensures that the exact term is found within the results, rather than each word separately which might take you to something about 'Western countries like Australia' for example. It's great for longer phrases too – like if you were searching for a particular quote.

If you were specifically looking for statistics on homelessness and poverty rates in rural Western Australia, you would need to include our next two best Boolean friends: AND and OR

Obviously there is different terminology used around homelessness and poverty, so to ensure you're not missing any sites where you might find information pertinent to your research, you're going to need to include variations of these words, as well as the kind of information you're looking for (statistics) and the geographic location. How? Well, my search would look something like this:

"Western Australia" AND "rural" AND ("statistics" OR "percent" OR "rates") AND ("homelessness" OR "sleeping rough" OR "housing insecure" OR "poverty" OR "impoverished")

At which point it becomes a 'search string' (now you get my terrible pun in the title?). Basically it is laid out the same way a mathematical equation is...

1 + 1 + (x or y or z) + (a or b or c) = search result

This is going to ensure that your results are the ones most relevant to statistical or numerical information on WA homelessness and poverty.

It's that easy.

Now, maybe you're looking for poverty but not homelessness rates. You can use another Boolean operator (NOT) to exclude the terms on homelessness the same way.

"Western Australia" AND "rural" AND ("statistics" OR "percent" OR "rates") AND ("poverty" OR "impoverished") NOT ("homelessness" OR "sleeping rough" OR "housing insecure")

Most of the time you'll find relevant information long before you have to resort to long string searches like this, but I have actually had to use them every now and then to find things a little more esoteric than homelessness rates in WA, and I reckon they're fantastic time savers when you're looking for an exact statistic or something to back up a needs statement in a grant application!

Enjoy your nerding! searching!