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EE Advanced Search and Saved Searches

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If you're looking for the answer to your question, Simple Search is nearly always the way to go. However, there are times when a more focused search capability is needed - mostly by advanced Experts and the EE volunteer Moderating staff and Administrative personnel. The following article on Advanced Search is mostly aimed at that group, although Advanced Search can be used by anyone, as I demonstrate below.  

Whatever your need, this article should provide you with some new ideas on how you can use EE's search capabilities to access its gigantic database of Solutions and Articles.

First, let's get this out of the way:  

Simple Search
If you are an EE Member searching for an answer to a previously-asked question (a PAQ), then Simple Search is probably your best bet.  Just use it the same way that you use Google or any search engine:  Type a set of keywords into the Search box, and click the Search button:
Simple search -- on every EE pageIf the EE Search Results page has too many items, you can quickly narrow the search by entering additional keywords and searching again, or by scrolling to the Narrow Results panel on the right and selecting a Zone, or clicking an item in the tag cloud.

Why use Advanced Search?
The kinds of thing that you can do with Advanced search are more esoteric and are, frankly, rarely needed for standard PAQ searches.  But it can be very useful in many specific situations.  Here are some examples of how you might benefit from using Advanced Search.  

Examples of what you can do with Advanced Search

Most of the following is for EE Experts and Administrators.  However, I'll start with a few not-too-unlikely PAQ searching scenarios, useful for the general EE membership:

Members: Doing General PAQ Searches

You want to find PAQs that contain the term "mousewheel" or "mouse wheel" (there are many hundreds like that, so...) you want to see only those PAQs that ALSO contain the text "FireFox" in a code snippet (on the theory that you will get a more complete example of usage there).
You want to find PAQs containing the keyword "Crystal Reports" but most of them show examples in Visual Basic, and you don't want to see those.
You want to see only Questions that have been answered (that is, no currently-open questions).
You want to see only Questions that have been answered within the previous year (e.g., no old PAQs about Netscape or IE4).
You want to see only Questions that were not force-accepted during abandoned-question cleanup.
On a large result set, you want to see the results in list format (title only, one-line per result).

Experts: Answering Questions and Earning Points

You are answering a question and you recall that last year sometime, you saw a post by HOF Expert, jkr, that included a link to some example code that might really help with this question.
You yourself participated in a question that was somewhat similar to this one, and you can't remember the solution, or who posted it, but you know that it was about six months ago.  Finding that specific thread will help you solve a particular problem for a Member.
The current question needs an answer in VBScript.  You know that a similar question has been answered many times in the JavaScript Zone, and you know you can easily do a translation.  All you need to do is find one of those JavaScript threads and the points are yours.
You recall having seen an "Editor's Choice" EE Article that covered just the thing that this Member is asking.  Use Advanced Search to find it (without wading through 100 question threads that also answered the question, but not as clearly and concisely).

Moderators: Doing EE Administration Tasks

You are an EE Moderator or Zone Adviser and you see that Gandalf17 and Saruman99 are in a flamewar about mouseovers.  You recall that these two have "gotten into it" in the past.  It would be useful to see list of threads in which they both participated, sorted by date.
Has Member Newbie17 often accepted good answers with a B or a C?  Does so-called Expert, KnowItAll99 often get low grades?
Newbie Member Goofball34 posted what amounts to a spam advertisement and will need to be cautioned or suspended.  How often has he posted that same ad?  Have any other members (i.e., possibly duplicate accounts) posted that same ad?
Find out how many automated "Request for Attention" clicks came from the Outlook Express Zone last year.
Which members have posted a particular four-letter word in a non-Lounge post?
There was a particular comment by Netminder in one of the now-closed "Community Volunteers" threads that you would like to reference in a new post.  Find it easily with Advanced Search.

Advanced Search Basics

EE Advanced search works somewhat differently from, for instance, Google's advanced search.  But once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to use, and it is very powerful.

[step=""]Note: From here on out, I'll be describing steps and showing screenshots as seen when using "Expert Skin."[/step]
The Short Version:
   1) Get to the Advanced Search screen.
 
   2) Select a criterion category on the left
   3) Populate the inputs that appear.
   4) Click Update Query (don't forget!)

   5) Repeat steps 2-4 until you have set all of your criteria.
   6) Click Search

In other words, you create your query in steps.  You are reading this because you need to do more than a simple keyword search, so expect to do a bit more work.  You will need to build your query one step at a time.

Advanced Search -- starts a new search
You can (and should) explore this screen yourself.  I'll not list every option.  Instead, I'm going to list each criterion category and describe/suggest some of the kinds of things you can do if you use that category.

But first, here's an Important tip:[step=""]Get into the habit of scrolling down and looking carefully at the Your Search panel as you build your query.  It is easy to forget to click Update Query after you compose a new criterion.  By visually monitoring the current state of "Your Search," you can see your query coming into existence, growing one step at a time, and you'll know if you need to edit a criterion or add more criteria.[/step]

Criteria Categories:

[step=""]Content Type:
Choose to search the PAQ (EE Question database) or EE Articles, or both.  Your choice here is important because some other options are shown or hidden, depending on this setting.

An EE Page Editor might search only Articles to see if a topic of a newly-submitted Article has been covered before.  Or to list all Articles in which he posted a comment.  Or to list all Articles were written by DanRollins that have been awarded neither EEA or EC.  Or to count how many Articles were published last month.

      Note: From here on out, I'll use the word items  to mean either
      Questions or Articles; that is, elements listed in a result set.

Terms:
Enter the keywords for which you are searching.  Most searches will include one or more terms, but some of the more esoteric uses of Advanced Search care nothing about the content of a Question or Article, so it is perfectly valid to omit this criterion.

You can search for items that contain (or do not contain) a particular word, or any of several words, or an exact phrase.

Advanced search lets you specify "wildcard terms" For instance:
   CreateWindow*
will match CreateWindow and CreateWindowEx

A search that brings up too many results can be modified by adding an exclusion term.  For instance, include "web browser" but exclude "FireFox Opera"

If you know a piece of the item title, you can specify to search for items that include a word or phrase in the title.  Or you can search for items that contain a certain keyword in a code snippet.  I've found that using this latter option increases my chances of finding a functional example of usage of, for instance, a Windows API function.

Each Question and Article is associated with a free-form tags field.  If you happen to know any of the tags that are in the tags field then you can find Articles that do (or do not) contain a particular tag.

You can specify a sort of "wildcard Zone" specifier here too.  Just enter a partial zone name in the text-input box and select "Zone Name" from the third drop-down box.

Members:
If you know that a Question was asked by a certain member or that a comment or an accepted answer was posted by a certain Expert, you can specify this criteria.

This is a great tool for EE Administrators.  For instance, to find all Questions in which two different Members interacted on the same Question or Article, add two of these criteria.  Viewing the Search Results is often a much more efficient way to scan a certain member's activity than looking in that member's profile.

Activity:
There is some overlap with other categories here.  The key feature of this option is that you can specify a date range.

For instance, if you are looking for an answer that was posted by a certain Expert in June or July of last year, this is the way to find it.  Use it to find Articles written by a particular Author in 2009, or Questions that contain the word "virus" posted this month or that contain Administrative comments made this week in a certain Zone.

Zones:
This one lets you identify items that appear in a certain Zone.  You may not need to use it because all search result pages provide a "Narrow By" option that lets you single out a particular Zone after the initial search is finished.  But the "Exclude" option might come in handy.  For instance, find all Questions containing the word "command" that are not in the Philosophy and Religion Zone.

This is also the trickiest criterion to set.  That's because when you click it, it opens up a large panel containing a hierarchical list of the hundreds of Zones in EE.  As you drill down to locate a specific Zone, the panel can get very large.  Remember to scroll down to below that panel to see the list of zones you have selected... and that's where you will find and click the [Update Query] button.  

Remember to click "Update Query"One late note:  In the Terms criteria option, you can now select Zone Name from the third drop-down box.  This will limit your search to just zones that have a match or partial match with the text you enter.  So that (and the Custom Query option -- see below) are ways to do a search that includes a group of zones that match a "fuzzy" criteria.

Points and Grade: (Questions only)
This is not as critical as you might think.   Sure, you probably want to find only 500-pt Questions that got an A... But the Search result list is always sorted by relevance, with the rating of the question being an implied criterion; that is, the top items in the list are nearly always going to be Questions that were graded with an A.

Question Type: (Questions only)
Select or exclude Open (unanswered) Questions.  Exclude Questions that were "force accepted" during cleanup of abandoned questions. Find Questions in which the Experts are waiting for the author to post a comment.  

Article Type: (Articles only)
You can select Articles that have have been (or have not been) selected as "EE Approved" or "Editors Choice".  This criteria can also be set under the Activity criterion.

Article Category: (Articles only)
You can select (or exclude) Articles that of a particular type; for instance, to get a list of Tutorials that include the term "JavaScript."

Display:
This is not a criterion at all, but rather a means to set some options for display of the results list.  I generally set this to display 200 items, in "List" format.  Each output line shows the date and a hyperlink that is the title of the item.  In these "specialty" searches, the first paragraph of the Question or Article is probably not much use, and having a nice one-item-per-line list is more convenient -- just drag the items one-at-a-time and drop them onto a separate browser window (see Drag And Drop Web Browsing for more on that).

Custom Query:
The Advanced Search is evolving and there is a description of current keywords here:
       Custom Query Keywords
Reading that, you'll see that there are lots of options for this field.  But, I've discovered that there are very few useful things that can be done with Custom Query keywords that can't be done using the (normal) interactive query builder.

However, there are some interesting options.  Here are some of the things you might consider doing via Custom Query:

Find Questions that have fewer than three comments.  Look only at comments that were posted after the question was closed.  Employ some pinpoint specific date-range options: Date asked, date accepted, date of last Expert comment, date of last Author comment.   You can't search attachment contents, but you can search for filenames that were used as an attachment and for the description text that's associated with an attachment.

You can specify to search multiple date ranges, including discontiguous date ranges and you can specify an hour as well as a date.  To specify a date, use the form YYYYMMDDhh (I've found that the hh is optional).  To specify a date range, remember to enclose the date range in square brackets and use the word TO between the dates.  For instance:
submitdate:[20090120 TO 20090123]

Open in new window

The area: option is handy because it lets you specify a Zone by using text rather than point-and-pick in the somewhat hard-to-use zone selector.  For instance,
area:Windows

Open in new window

...will include a search of zones: Windows MFC, PHP for Windows, Windows Programming, Windows 7, Microsoft Networking (a.k.a. Windows_Networking), and so forth (Note: This capability is also available under the Terms criterion).

It's possible to put nearly your entire query in the Custom Query field.  Just string together a series of custom query values putting AND or OR between them.  For instance:
asker:DanRollins AND grade:4 AND acceptdate:[20090101 TO 20100101]

Open in new window

That OR option is significant too.  Using the regular interactive query builder, you are generally specifying this AND that AND the-other;  that is, each additional criteria excludes more possible items.  The Custom Query option lets you say, this OR that -- it's a way to broaden the search.[/step]

Summary:

1) Select a criterion category on the left side of the panel.
2) Populate the fields that appear.
3) Click Update Query
4) Repeat steps 1-3 until done.

5) Review the "Your Search" list to verify that it's correct.
6) Click the Search button.

That puts you in the Search Results page where you can examine the items to see if you found what you were hoping to find.  I think it's easiest to have a second browser window open and just drag the item links onto the second window.  If there are too many items in the Search Result, click the Edit Advanced Search button and add some more terms or other criteria.

Saved Searches

Up until now, we've been setting criteria and clicking Search.  But you will also see another option:
Create a "Saved Search"What "Save and Search" does is create a Saved Search -- a set of search criteria that has a name.  Your Saved Search will be listed in a panel below the search criteria, and you can re-run it whenever you want.
[step=""]Note: You can get to your Saved Searches by clicking Advanced near the Find button on any EE Page (in Premium Skin, click Search, then click Advanced and scroll down a bit).[/step]
This is particularly useful for EE Mod/ZA/PE/Admins who may need to reuse a set of search criteria periodically.  It lets you set up a complex search with multiple criteria, and then later, you can modify just one criteria and run the modified search.

Your previously-saved searches are listed at the bottom of the Advanced Search window.  It's kind of a pain if you have a lot of saved searches, but you can page through them, find the one you want to use and click the To Top option to put it front-and-center for easy changes.

Save as New Search
As of this writing, EE does not provide a "Save as New Search" option, but I found a workaround that does the same thing:

1) Clear the name field (next to the Save and Search button)
2) Click Search
3) Click EDIT ADVANCED SEARCH  (it's atop the results list.)
4) Enter a new name in the (now blank) search name field.
5) Click Save and Search

That gives you a copy of the same search, but with a new name.  Edit it to add a new criterion or change any of the criteria.

Editing a Search
Up until recently, if you wanted to revise a search, you needed to first save it with a name.  But now, the search criteria are saved in a cookie as the "current unnamed search."  So even such "on-the-fly" (OTF) searches can be revised and reused.  

When looking at the Search Results page, just click the Edit Advanced Search button.  In the Advanced Search page, scroll down a bit to see the Your Search panel.  Click the Edit button next to any of the criteria and (this is where you might goof up...) scroll back up to the upper panel to make the changes and (this is the other place you might goof up...) be sure to click the Update Query button and then review all of the lines of the "Your Search" panel.

Rerun the search by clicking Search or Save and Search.

Note:  While viewing the Search Results page, if you click one of the "Narrow Results" options, your unnamed (OTF) search settings may be lost.  For this reason, it is often wise to work with a saved (named) search if you are doing anything complex.  

I avoid problems by having a search named "temp" at the top of my Saved Searches list.  Rather than work with an OTF search that may get lost, I simply edit (and always save) the "temp" search.  For one thing, that lets me avoid the step of always setting the "Display" criteria to list view -- it's already a part of my "temp" search.

Link to a Saved Search
Each Saved Search has a system-wide unique identifier.  If you want to let somebody else use one of your Saved Searches, you can create to link to it.

Here's how I do it:
1) Create an aptly-named Saved Search (for instance "DanRollinsArticles").  
2) Click on the Run button that is next to that search
   in the Saved Searches list.
3) Copy the text that is now in the address bar.  For instance:
     http://www.experts-exchange.com/advancedSearch.jsp?ssfSearchID=48019&rsfSubmit=true&runSavedSearch=true

You can paste that link into a comment or an email.  It appears that other Members can use the search but cannot modify it.

Filters for Experts

A Filter is basically a Questions-only saved search and it's embedded in an interactive system that Experts use to simplify the task of answering Questions.  You get to your filters by clicking the Answer tab at the top of any EE screen to bring up the Expert Zone.  

Filters are simple to create because they usually only require a single criterion:  A list of zones that you want to monitor.  The creation and use of Filters is the topic for another article; I mention them here because you set the search criteria basically the same way as for Advanced Search -- in steps, hitting Update after each step.

Summary:

In this article we saw some of the incredible power of EE's Advanced Search tool.  We saw how to build a complex search, one step at a time, and how to save it as a Saved Search.  We saw how to modify a Saved Search and reuse it periodically, even offer it to other Members for their own use.

I've been hanging around at EE for many years, and I (and nearly every Expert) has at one time or another complained about the search facility.  But with this latest round of changes, EE's Advance Search is now a wonder to behold.  It is a development tour de force and I take my hat off to the EE Developers.

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Comment
Author:DanRollins
2 Comments
 
LVL 38

Expert Comment

by:lherrou
I found this article to be useful and comprehensive, and it got my Yes vote!
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LVL 18

Expert Comment

by:Ravi Agrawal
Lol,  I was thinking about writing an article on EE searches, found yours  !!!

Very good, covers pretty much everything---

Just my 2 cents as always,

When a search is done, you can sort the search, in the order of the Date, so that the newer hits line up first.

You can search within current search results, too

You can increase the number of results to be viewed per page.

See screengrabs.

Ravi.
search.PNG
search2.PNG
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