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SuperSearch: Search Tips

Information and guides to help you use SuperSearch at Cowles Library

Advanced techniques in a Basic Search

While we recommend using Advanced Search for creating a complex, focused search query, there are some things you can do in the Basic Search to get more relevant results.

Search for a Phrase

To search for an exact phrase, type quotation marks around the phrase. You can combine both words and phrases in your search.

If you do not use quotation marks, SuperSearch will find results that contain the individual words in the phrase, regardless of whether those words are located next to each other or in the order specified.
If you use a comma to separate words in a list, the comma must be followed by a space. Otherwise, SuperSearch considers the comma to be part of the word and return fewer results than expected.


"global warming"

Using AND, OR, and NOT

By default, SuperSearch considers every word you enter to be a search term. Words that some search engines automatically give special properties, such as and, or, and not (known as Boolean operators) must be entered as ALL CAPS in SuperSearch in order for them to be treated as Boolean operators. Here's what they do:

AND - Finds all of the terms in your search. By default, SuperSearch already separates your terms with AND, so it isn't strictly necessary to use it. However, using AND between search terms tells SuperSearch that you don't care whether the terms appear near each other. When you don't include operators, the system's search algorithm gives preference to results in which all of your terms are in close proximity to one another, so the following searches will achieve different results:

honey bees communication - SuperSearch treats the entire query as an phrase and returns results in which all of the words are in close proximity.

honey bees AND communication  - SuperSearch treats honey bees and communication as separate phrases and returns results in which the phrase communication may not be in close proximity phrase honey bees.

OR - Finds any of the terms in your search. Lettuce OR arugula retrieves results that contain either term. OR is useful when you have terms that are closely related.

NOT - Excludes terms from your search. For example, football NOT NFL would retrieve results containing football, but would exclude any results that also contain NFL.

Using Wildcards

You can include the following wildcard characters in your searches:

? - enter a question mark to perform a single character wildcard search. For example, type wom?n to search for records that contain the strings woman, women, and so forth.
* - enter an asterisk to perform a multiple character wildcard search. For example, type cultur* to search for records that contain strings, such as culture, cultural, and culturally.

Note: The system ignores wildcard characters placed at the beginning of search terms. For example, the system treats the search terms ?aying and *aying as if you had searched for aying.

Grouping Terms

You can use parentheses to group terms and clarify the order of multiple operators specified in a query.

Example 1: The following query searches for records that contain Shakespeare and either tragedy or sonnet:

Shakespeare AND (tragedy OR sonnet)

When using more than one operator, it is strongly recommended to use parentheses to clarify precedence. For example, if no parentheses are specified in the above query, SuperSearch will apply left-to-right precedence and instead group the words Shakespeare and tragedy as follows:

(Shakespeare AND tragedy) OR sonnet

After the results are returned, SuperSearch will display the altered query in the search box so that you can decide whether to modify and re-execute your query to get expected results.

Example 2: The following query searches for records that contain either Irish or Celtic and do not contain Gaelic:

(Irish OR Celtic) NOT Gaelic

Use "In the Library" for a faster, narrower search

When you're searching for a book, DVD, or other physical item in the library, change "Everything" to "In the Library" in the dropdown menu. This will exclude articles, eBooks, news, and other content from our subscription databases.