Advanced Searching

Tutorial Directory

What is Advanced Searching?

Many search engines including Google offer advanced search tools. Information Fluency's Search Wizard is an example of Google's Advanced searching tools that displays how Google builds a query. Typical advanced tools include Boolean Operators:

    AND (all the words) [spacebar or + do the same thing]
    NOT (none of the words) [- does the same thing]
    OR (at least some of the words) [| does the same thing]

Other filters include

    " " (exactly this string)
    site: (only this site)
    ~ (search with synonyms)
    filetype: (search only these type of files)
    -filetype: (don't search for this type of file)

For more on basic operators, see the MicroModule: Operators

Thousands of databases offer their own versions of advanced search and it's important to understand how to use these tools. Not all information is retrievable by Google. Finding the right database to search and knowing how to use its search engine is important. Since other databases' search engines may be unfamiliar, it may take additional work to learn how to search unfamiliar tools.

library of congress
Example 1
The Library of Congress has this advanced search page: In addition to Boolean operators, it includes dropdown menus specific to its contents. Google doesn't do this. These filters or guided menus help narrow the search to fields like TITLE, NAME, SERIES, SUBJECT and more. This adds considerable focus to a query if you know what you are looking for. If you are unsure what you are looking for, these menus may just be confusing and limit the results, in which it may be best to search for KEYWORDS only.
Example 2
The Rollercoaster Database has several of its own advanced search pages: Rollercoaster Advanced Search. Guided menus for 17 different fields are available including year opened, year closed, design and type. Again, if you are unsure what you are looking for, this could be overwhelming. However, it really helps narrow the search when you need it. If you are looking for wooden rolleroasters scheduled to open in 2020, select just the TYPE and OPENED fields and enter WOOD and 2020 respectively and the answer is easy to find.

air racer
Example 3
The Air Racing Database has an advanced search page here: Again, several guided menus for years and type of race are available. Unfortunately, there isn't an obvious link to this advanced searching page from the home page; you have to hunt for it.

When encountering an advanced search page for the first time, take a moment to become familiar with the fields. If you are in search of information and know some details about it, advanced search can save a lot of time wading through results. If you are at the beginning of a search and still speculating, these tools may not help much. On the other hand they are excellent for investigative searching: for finding an author, a date range, related types of documents and much more.

Learning Curve

Encountering an unfamiliar database involves learning how it works. Take, for instance, the US Government Patent Database--a repository of patent applications and patents. It contains millions of records. Finding information on an individual patent can determine the future of the next big thing. Searching the Patent Database is not for novices. In fact, search professionals make careers out of searching this database for inventors and corporations.

Have a look at the Advanced Search page: There are 55 fields from PN (Patent Number) to IFLD (Hague Internatioanl Filing Date). Most of these fields will mean nothing to a novice, however only a motivated searcher will need to search for patents. It's not your normal, everyday search.

peeled potato

This tutorial is not about how to use the Patent Advance Search, but to show how something unfamiliar can become familiar. Note that each field is a link--a link to a definition of the field. Knowing what the fields are is important, so spending time understanding the field is time well spent. If a searcher wants to discover what devices designed to peel potatoes have patents, there are a few fields that immediately stand out: TITLE, ABSTRACT, DESCRIPTION--they might contain the keywords potato and peeler). The other fields--unless you are looking for an inventor or already know things about the invention--may not yet be useful.

Note also the example to the right of the query box in the patent search page. It shows how to format the query using the field codes, in our case ttl/(potato and peeler). Try the search, observing the proper formatting. The query retrieves four results: Potato peeler, Potato and vegetable peeler, Potato peeler and Potato peeler handle. Does this mean you found all the relevant patents? No. There may be other patented devices that could peel potatoes using a method that is more novel. But it's a good start. The next step is to read the four examples and look for related search terms and see what other fields are referenced. It's really a detective exercise with a long learning curve.

By the way, before our new peeler device can be granted a patent, government patent searchers will do an exhaustive search to make sure it's not too much like what already is patented. If we don't do due diligence searching this database first, it could be a big waste of time and money.

Authored by Carl Heine, 2018