Answered By: SAPL FAQs
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2016     Views: 616

Many times, using a few keywords in a basic search will allow you to find what you are looking for. However, if you want to create a very specific search, here are some tips for constructing it:

1. * (Single Asterisk):

    Matches any number of non-space characters, starting at the specified position in the word:
    • inter* will match all words that begin with inter, e.g., internal, internet, international, etc.
    The * wildcard may also be embedded in a search term:
    • colo*r would match both color and colour
    The * wildcard may only appear after at least two characters:
    • n* would be rejected, but ne* would be accepted (but would likely produce an unmanageably large result set)

2. Boolean Operators

    Quick and Advanced Searches can use the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT for complete flexibility of searches or to override word adjacency. These operators are not case sensitive.
  • AND (Synonym '&'):The AND operator is used to retrieve records that contain all of the specified words or phrases in any indexed fields.
    • fractal AND geometry
    • fractal & geometry
    • college football & biography
    • large print AND romance
  • OR (Synonym '|'): The OR operator is used to retrieve records that contain at least one of the specified words or phrases in an indexed field.
    • phobos OR deimos
    • phobos | deimos
    • NOT (Synonym '!'): The NOT operator is used to modify the results produced by the other Boolean operators. It cannot be used by itself.
      • mercury AND NOT planet
      • mercury & ! planet
      These searches would retrieve records that contain the word mercury, but do not contain the word planet.

Boolean operators may be combined in a single search expression. For example, "politics AND mexico AND NOT new" would search for records containing both "politics" and "mexico", but reject any records that also contain the word "new".

3. Parentheses

    May be used to group portions of the search expression to further refine it.
    • ecology AND (galveston OR houston)
    • ((mexico OR texas) AND NOT rio grande) and (adventure AND NOT vacation)

4. Proximity Operators

  • NEAR (Synonym '~'): This operator retrieves records that contain the words within ten words of each other in the same indexed field. If these two words occur further apart in the same field or they appear in separate fields in a given record, then that record would not be retrieved.
  • WITHIN X (No synonym): This operator retrieves records that contain the words within X words of each other. The WITHIN operator is similar to the NEAR operator, but allows the user to specify the maximum number of words that may appear between the specified words.
    • fractal WITHIN 3 geometry
  • BEFORE (No synonym) and AFTER (No synonym): These operators retrieve records that contain the specified words or phrases in a particular order in the record. Any number of words can appear between the specified words or phrases.
    • (chester BEFORE arthur) or (arthur AFTER chester)
    This search would retrieve records containing the word chester followed at any distance by the word arthur (e.g., Chester Arthur, Chester Alan Arthur), but not records containing those same words in the opposite order (e.g., Arthur Chester).

5. Operators Used As Search Terms

    Any of the Boolean and proximity operators may be used as a search term by enclosing it in double quotes.
    • "near" east
    This search retrieves records with the phrase near east in an indexed field. Similarly, to search for the phrase within and without, the search expression would be entered as shown below:
    • "within and without"

6. Searching Within Specific Fields

    To search words in any order in a specific field, use the following notations:
    • title: t or ti or title
    • author: a or au or author
    • subject: s or su or subject
    • note: n or no or note
    Use a colon or an equal sign:
    • t:robinson crusoe
    • s=survival AFTER airplane accidents
    • a:twain AND NOT t:huck*

Result Sorting

    Available sorting options are:
    • date (reverse chronological)
    • alphabetical (by title)
    • relevance


    Relevance is based on the AltaVista relevance algorithm, which considers the order in which a particular word is indexed in a record. Fields are indexed in the following order: titles, authors, subjects, notes, other.
    • Single Word Searches:
      • Most relevant: word is in the first 8 words indexed for the record.
      • Next most relevant: word is in the next 24 words indexed (#9-32).
      • Next most relevant: word is indexed more than once for the record.
    • Multiple Word Searches (words are first sorted in ascending order by frequency in the index):
      • Most relevant: first two words are very near each other in the record.
      • Next most relevant: first two words are near each other.
      • Ties are broken using the criteria for single word searches.
      • If the results are sorted by relevance, users will see the relevance column in the display. Otherwise, the date column displays.