I hope this question isn't illegal but I am trying to get Linux in some form, onto my laptop without damaging/hindering regular use of my windows 7 os if possible
You're OK --- your question isn't illegal. ...At least not today.
I have come across a term called partitions. I believe to set up that, is required in orde to have the swap-over capability.
Yes, you're right: the general plan is that you'll split your hard drive into several separate chunks ("partitions") --- one partition will have Windows on it, and the others will have Linux on them --- and you'll be able to choose which to boot when you power up your machine.
At the moment, your drive is likely to be formatted into a single gigantic partition: you want to split this into more than one. Since there is already data on the drive (i.e. Windows and your files), you can either
i) back up the data and then just partition the drive, destroying the existing data --- and then reinstall Windows and restore your backed-up data (this is known as destructive partitioning and is the "long way" of doing things),
ii) you can try a non-destructive
partitioning tool (e.g. gparted, as mentioned in the post above). The basic idea of non-destructive partitioning is that the data already on the drive is not harmed by the partitioning process --- but as my good man Soadyheid points out, you should nevertheless back up
your data first, just in case things don't go quite to plan... It's also worth running a disk check on Windows and defragmenting it before you start --- the former helps to spot any potential problems and the latter squeezes your data into one nice lump at the start of your disk, so that repartitioning is easier.
If you want more detailed information about all this, this article
is a beginner's introduction to partitioning.
Good luck & welcome to Linux!