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Search Tips

The following conventions are used in this document:

  • in examples, search terms and phrases are indicated in fixed width characters (e.g. my query
  • in reference to query examples or specific search terms of a query, single quotation characters are used.
  • special characters and search operators are indicated in italics throughout.

Most search words or phrases can be entered as-is.

e.g. national library of canada

Search terms may be entered in upper or lower case, with or without accents.

Some search words or phrases must be enclosed within double quotes.

The following words are search operators:

and, or, not, near, accum, equiv, minus The following characters also have special significance:

"  (  )  {  }  &  |  ,  =  ~  ;  -  '  [  ]  *  >  :  $  !  ? #

A search term or phrase containing any of the above words or characters must be enclosed within double quote characters.


Enter search term piano man's daughter as "piano man's daughter"; e=mc2 as "e=mc2"; boom and bust as "boom and bust". In the above example, the search term 'piano man's daughter' contains the apostrophe character ('), and therefore the term must be enclosed within double quotes.  For the same reason 'e=mc2' must be enclosed in double quotes because of the '=' character. Similarly, 'boom and bust' contains the search operator word 'and'.

Search operators can be used to enhance searching.

and  ( & )     - e.g. group of seven and thomson

or    ( | )        - e.g. art gallery of ontario | ago

not  ( ~ )      - e.g. great lakes not michigan

near ( ; )      - e.g. lake ; superior

For each of the above search operators, the symbolic equivalent is indicated in parentheses.  Near  is good for finding documents that contain the name of people or places, or for phrases where two terms are related in a certain way.  Near cannot be used in combination with an and or or search.  For example, the query '(native or aboriginal) near art' returns an error: but '(native near art) or (aboriginal near art)' works.  (More search operators exist and are described under search tips for advanced searching.)

Search Operators have an order of precedence.

Query expressions are evaluated in order from left to right according to operator precedence.  Operators with a higher precedence are applied first.  The following search operators are ranked in order of precedence from highest to lowest: near, and, or, not. (Precedence of other search operators is described in advanced searching.)

The following examples show how operator precedence works:

native near art and eastern canada In the above example 'native' is searched near 'art' and the result is and'd with 'eastern canada'.

native or aboriginal and eastern canada The above search query will do what may not be expected.  The search term 'aboriginal' is first searched where 'eastern canada' occurs in the same document(s), and the result is then or'd with 'native'.  An easy way to avoid this problem is to enclose search expressions within parentheses, as in the following:

(native or aboriginal) and eastern canada Search expressions within parentheses are evaluated first, regardless of operator precedence.  (However, multiple expressions within parentheses will still follow the order of operator precedence.)

To avoid getting inappropriate search results, use parentheses for complex search expressions.