Search engine cheat sheet

Detailed features of four recommended search engines.

Alta Vista Advanced Search
Northern Light Power
Fast Search Advanced
Advanced Search:
Help File

Google Avanced search tips
Interpreting Results in Google

Alta Vista Advanced Search tutorial Northern Light Power search help Fast Search help
detailed searching instructions for Google detailed searching instructions for Alta Vista Advanced Search detailed searching instructions for Northern Light Power detailed searching instructions for Fast Search Advanced
Phrase searching 

Use simple quotes ("search phrase")

In advanced search, choose "find results with the exact phrase".

Use simple quotes ("search phrase")
Use simple quotes ("search phrase")

Choose "search for the exact phrase"

In advanced search, terms in the "filter" boxes are always searched as phrases.

Boolean logic 
Tip! Always capitalise Boolean operators

Limited Boolean logic is available:

"OR" is supported (contrary to what most tutorials say)

"AND" is automatically assumed between words, thereby restricting your search

Exclude words by prefixing them with the - sign [-term]

In Advanced Search, Boolean logic is available in the form of:
ALL is "AND"
ANY is "OR"

Nesting is not supported.

Available, but only in the "Boolean query" box of the Advanced Search page.

Supported operators include AND (assumed by default), OR, AND NOT, NEAR (within 10 words). 

Nesting is supported.

Available from any search box.

Supported operators include AND (assumed by default), OR, NOT.

Nesting is supported

In the top box, AND is assumed by default.

For OR, enclose terms or phrases in parentheses; e.g. (interpreter translator)

Advanced search "filter" boxes appromixates Boolean logic:
Must include is "AND"
Must not include is "NOT"
Should include ensures higher ranking

Requires/ Excludes

Search terms without a specific require or exclude instruction default to "AND".

Note that Google automatically ignores very frequent words, i.e. articles, prepositions from your search terms. To leave them in, prefix them with a + sign, e.g.:

["shakespeare +in love"] retrieves URLs on all three words whereas ["shakespeare in love"] disregards the "in".

However, not all common words can be forced back into a query using the + sign. For instance, Google is totally defeated by the search phrase: "to be or not to be".

Available only in Simple Search (which defaults to OR).

[+term] requires that the term be present.

[-term] excludes all pages where the term is present 

A better option is to use Boolean logic in Advanced Search.

Search terms without a specific require or exclude instruction default to AND. 

[+term] requires that the term be present.

[-term] excludes all pages where the term is present 

Search terms without a specific require or exclude instruction default to AND.

In the top search box:

[+term] requires that the term be present/

[-term] excludes all pages where the term is present 



Refine your search by adding terms to your original search.


SORT BY box performs a sub-search.


Add terms to refine your search or use Northern Light's very intuitive "Folders" to drill down on a sub-theme.


Add terms to refine your search

Results Ranking
Based on a special algorithm for page popularity measured in links to it from other pages, Google is probably the best engine at relevancy ranking.

Google is very good at giving a ranking to official sites (to which other sites link a lot)

Unless terms are preceded by a + sign, "fuzzy AND" is invoked.

Note that matching and ranking in Google are based on the "cached" version of pages that may not be the most recent version.

By terms you specify in smaller SORT box on Advanced screen.

Dual search. "Sort" box searches on body of documents retrieved with Boolean logic in larger "Boolean expression" box on Advanced screen.

Requires some getting used to but extremely powerful once you have the hang of it.

Automatic "fuzzy AND".

Weights results by search term sequence, left to right.

Also considers the number of links to each page, somewhat like Google.

You can request results to be sorted by reverse date.

Automatic "fuzzy AND".

In Advanced Search, Should include gives higher priority to those pages containing the word or phrase.

Field filtering
SORT:date sorts results by date, from newest to oldest
Advanced Search lets you search within:
link name:
link to the url:

Advanced Search lets you filter results by:

No, and no stemming.

This means you must search plurals separately!

Use * as a wildcard

Use * wildcard for any ending.

* wildcard may be used for any characters within a word;at least 4 other characters must precede it.

Use % wildcard to allow only one character variable in a word.

Also stems allowing most plurals and common endings.


Enclose variants in (  ) in top box to create OR.

Case sensitivity

Yes. Upper case retrieves only matching upper case.

Lower case retrieves either lower or upper case.

Alta Vista is also accent and character sensitive.

No. No.
Language filtering 
Yes. Yes Yes. Yes
Limit by age of documents
In Advanced Search. In Advanced search. Yes, in Power Search In Advanced Search.

Adapted from the Berkeley University Teaching Library Internet Workshops - Recommended Search Engines Detailed Features Table.
Recommended citation format:
Vincent BUCK. "Search engine cheat sheet". December 19, 2000. Accessed May 30, 2020. <>.

About the author(s)
Vincent BUCK

Vincent Buck is a Brussels-based freelance conference interpreter and IT systems analyst