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Tips For Using Text Search Tweet This   Forward This

23 August 2013

We haven't stopped working on our new Text Search after we launched it last week. But it was good enough right out of the box that we didn't wait until we'd polished it up. Based on code we'd run for a decade elsewhere, we knew it was working but on our own site we had a chance to refine it.

While still keeping it straightforward and easy to use, that is.

Text Search:


They're subtle but we have made a couple of improvements since switching over from the Google-based search:

  • We thought restricting the results to quoting a single line of the text was unnecessarily modest, so we grab a bit more of the original text now. And formatted it a bit more nicely, too.
  • We save the search term you use and drop it into the results Search box so you can easily edit it rather than retype it to refine your results.

We're still kicking around adding simple options like reversing the order the results are reported and searching just headlines.


Meanwhile, we thought we'd suggest a few ways to improve your results.

The most important tip is to be vague. If you're specific, the search will only return a subset of the possible results.

Looking for "Plustek 120 Film Scanner" (0 results) won't get you as far as "Plustek" will (28 citations in 9 articles). We have only reviewed the OpticFilm 120, anyway, so you won't be confusing multiple scanners from Plustek.

Name searches are tricky because, well, names are tricky. Is it OpticFilm or Optic Film? You might just try "optic" because that's unusual enough to return useful results and short enough to cover either usage.

Keyword-like searches, on the other hand, are a bit too vague. They're nice as concepts but we don't write with them so searching for them won't work very well.

If you hunt for "monochrome," for example, you'll see it referenced 7 times in 5 articles. But look for "monochrome | black and white | black-and-white | b&w" and you'll get 78 references in 37 articles.

Crazy but true.


You can always just type a literal phrase to search, of course. That's what the search was designed for. But it also supports some sophisticated options expressed as regular expressions.

Those vertical bars above, incidentally, are the regular-expression way of saying "or". You can find out more about regular expressions in this Gentle User Guide and Tutorial. For a quick start, try this Regular Expression Quick Start

Some of the more fun tricks:

  • Use [] to enclose options. Instead of typing "black and white | black-and-white" we could just have used "black[- ]and" to do the same thing.
  • Use [^] to specify things you don't want. So "street [^p]" would return all the occurrence of "street " but not "street price."
  • Use \bf\d\d? for an aperture reference. The \b is a word boundary, the \d stands for a digit, the ? makes the second digit optional. Our publication style is to represent f-stops as f3.0 with a plain "f" and without the slash -- just to make it easier to search.
  • Don't worry about capitalization. Our search engine ignores it. We find that convenient but if you don't, let us know and we can make it an option.
  • We don't ignore any words, so we look for the whole phrase you type (which is why it's good to be vague). If you want to look for any of the words, use that vertical bar ("Canon|Nikon|Sony").
  • Parentheses can group alternatives (and have to be escaped). You might be looking for "(Sony|Panasonic|Olympus) (lens )? mount" to throw a few examples together. If you really want a parenthesis, though, you have to escape it. The string "\(.+?\)" will reveal all our parenthetical remarks.

Typically, the first search takes the longest, as the files are being cached. Subsequent searches are almost instantaneous.

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