AltaVista - Simple and Advanced help

Using Simple Search

Type a word or phrase or a question (for example, weather Boston or  what is the weather in Boston?), then click Search (or press the Enter key).

Pretty simple, isn't it? Because AltaVista accurately interprets natural language questions, you don't even need to think about your query--just ask. By the way, don't worry about getting a large number--even millions--of results, because the matches at the top of the list are likely to be the most useful to you. Simple Search automatically ranks results so that the most likely ones appear first. 

Want more precision? Here's how:
Use only lower case unless you want your search to be case sensitive. If you search for Coffee, you'll get only sites that include that word with just that capitalization. If you search for coffee, you'll get any page with that word.
Use quotation marks to search for a phrase. For fairy tales, search for "once upon a time". Without quotes, you'll just get any pages that use any of those (very common, by the way) words.
Use as many words as you want to focus the search. The more information you provide, the more useful the initial results will be. For example, a search for sandals leather footwear is more likely to produce useful results than a search for sandals alone. Assuming you want information about leather sandals, that is.
Use a plus sign (+) in front of a word to require that word to appear in the results. To search for information about a particular Broadway musical, try +Broadway Cats. Or, require entire phrases like this: +"one small step".
Use a minus sign (-) in front of a word to exclude it from results. Search for information about cats, but not the musical, try cats -musical. Exclude phrases in the same way: dogs -"going to the".
Use an asterisk (*) to broaden your search. To find any words that start with gold, use gold* to find matches for gold, goldfinch, goldfinger, and golden.

More Simple Search Options
Search Usenet Newsgroups (Internet-wide discussion groups). Just click the down-arrow next to Search (the Web) and select Usenet.
Specify that you want only documents in a particular language. Just click the down-arrow next to in (any Language) and select a language from the list.
Display pages from the search results in a separate browser window so your results list remains accessible. Just click the little icon located at the left of each results listing. 

Simple Search Ranks Results

AltaVista automatically sorts your results to put the most likely documents at the top. It generally doesn't matter if you get 200 or 2000000 documents that match your criteria--you'll likely find the closest matches in the first page or two. If you don't find what you need in the first few pages, adapt/improve your search terms.

AltaVista sorts search matches based on these criteria:
Do all of the specified words or phrases appear? A document containing all words specified in a query ranks higher than a document containing only one or two of the words.
Are the words or phrases in the first few lines or title of the document?
Are multiple query words or phrases close to each other or spread out throughout the document?
Are the search terms common? Unique terms, such as "St. Bernard," will be ranked higher in the search results than common words, like "dog."

It doesn't matter how often a word occurs in a document. A document with a single occurrence of a query word would have the same chance of being at the top of a search list as a document with 50 occurrences of the same word.



Using Advanced Search

Choose AltaVista Advanced Search to meet specific or specialized searching needs. For example, you could use advanced search to

construct queries using Boolian logic (AND, OR, NOT, NEAR).
find documents last modified within a specific time frame
provide your own ranking words.
find words located near (within 10 words of) each other.

To use Advanced Search, follow these quick steps:

  1. Choose the Advanced Search link from the AltaVista main page to bring up the Advanced Search Page.
  2. Enter your search word or phrase in the large blank box.
  3. Add operators (AND, OR, NOT, or NEAR) or the corresponding symbols to specify the relationship of the query words, as described in the following table. Check out Advanced Search examples for some useful ideas.
  4. Enter one or more words in the Ranking box to influence the order in which results appear. For example, you could focus a search for COBOL AND programming by entering advanced and experienced in the Ranking field. Provide at least one ranking word. If you leave the Ranking box blank, AltaVista Search displays the results in random order, which is not very useful.
  5. Click the Search button.

More Advanced Search Options
In addition to the basics, you have several more Advanced Search options:

Search Usenet Newsgroups (Internet-wide discussion groups) by clicking the down-arrow next to Search (the Web) and selecting Usenet.
Specify that you want the results to display only documents published in a particular language. Just click the down-arrow next to in (any Language) and select a language from the list.
Enter dates in the From Date: and To Date: fields to restrict your search to a time period. Use the format dd/mmm/yy where dd represents the day of the month, mmm is an abbreviation for the name of the month, and yy is the last two digits of the year. Be sure to use the month abbreviation and not a number to eliminate ambiguity between date formats in different countries--for example, 09/jan/96.
You can display pages from the search results in a separate browser window so your results list remains accessible. Just click the little  icon located at the left of each results listing.

Boolian Operators

Use the following operators to require or exclude items in an Advanced Search. Check out the Advanced Search examples to see these operators in action.

Keyword Symbol Action
AND & Finds only documents containing all of the specified words or phrases. Mary AND lamb finds documents with both the word Mary and the word lamb.
OR | Finds documents containing at least one of the specified words or phrases. Mary OR lamb finds documents containing either Mary or lamb. The found documents could contain both, but do not have to.
NOT ! Excludes documents containing the specified word or phrase. Mary AND NOT lamb finds documents with Mary but not containing lamb. NOT cannot stand alone--use it with another operator, like AND. For example, AltaVista does not accept Mary NOT lamb; instead, specify Mary AND NOT lamb.
NEAR ~ Finds documents containing both specified words or phrases within 10 words of each other. Mary NEAR lamb would find the nursery rhyme, but likely not religious or Christmas-related documents.

You can enter the operator keywords in all uppercase or all lowercase, although using uppercase conveniently distinguishes keywords from words in your search.
If you need to use an operator as a search term, enclose the term in double quotes to distinguish it from the operator keyword of the same name. For example, you could enter Portland AND (Oregon OR "OR") to look for either Oregon or its Postal Service abbreviation.
If you've included multiple operators within a search query, group the operators with the search words using parentheses. For example, (Mary NEAR lamb) AND NOT contrary tells AltaVista to search for documents with Mary and lamb, then to sort through those documents and root out ones with contrary in them. Unless you specify the order with parentheses, AltaVista interprets NEAR, then NOT, then AND, then OR, moving from left to right through the query.
In Advanced Search, plus (+) and minus (-), which are the Simple Search operators, are interpreted as regular punctuation.
Use quotation marks (" ") to group words into phrases, just as you would do for a simple search.

Advanced Search Examples

The following examples show effective Advanced search queries, including different combinations of operators.

(apple OR pear) AND (tart OR pie)
This query specifies either apple or pear appear in the same document with either tart or pie.
John NEAR Kennedy
This query specifies that both John and Kennedy appear within ten words of each other. The NEAR operator is often useful in searching for names because of the many possible different forms that names take. The example query would find all of John Kennedy; Kennedy, John; John Fitzgerald Kennedy; and John F. Kennedy.
vegetable AND (NOT broccoli)
This query specifies that documents found contain the word vegetable but not the word broccoli.
ACME AND (Wile NEAR coyote) AND (NOT roadrunner)
This query specifies that documents found must contain ACME, and Wile within 10 words of coyote, and not the word roadrunner. If any one of these three conditions isn't met, the document will not be a hit.
CD AND (NOT (financial OR money OR invest*)) AND music
This query specifies that documents found must contain the terms CD and music, but cannot contain any of financial or money or anything starting with invest (like invest, investment, investor).