You’re going to want to bookmark this page – it shows you on how to use Google’s advanced search operators to track legislation, with specific legislative examples and operator combinations.
Many legislative professionals end up learning the importance of crafting effective searches the hard way – and there’s a shortage of practical help out there.
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Before you know it, you’ll be as search-savvy as the best in your business. And your colleagues will be jealous of you – because it’s actually easy to learn this stuff, though it’s perceived as requiring enormous intellect.
Let’s get started (and, seriously, bookmark this page).
Advanced Search Operators (With Legislative Examples)
The name “Advanced Search Operators” might sound complex, but the concept is simple, and you don’t have to be tech-savvy or search-savvy to understand how to start using them immediately.
Advanced search operators are query words and symbols that give special orders to a search engine. They filter the results and help you to find what you’re looking for more quickly.
The below operators are aimed at the Google search engine. You can read about them in more detail here.
( * ) — the wildcard operator
The wildcard operator acts as an “anything” placeholder – you use it to capture possible variations for words or phrases.
Example 1: farm*
A search for the term “farm” alone will only return results including that exact word — “farm.” Meanwhile, agriculture policy wonks need to be aware of words like “farming,” “farmers,” “farmed” and “farms,” which would otherwise be left by the wayside. By using the asterisk as a wildcard character, a search for [ farm* ] will return results for all of those.
Example 2: * response protocols
This search, with a space after the asterisk, would return results for a variety of topics, including “ambulance response protocols” and “disaster response protocols.”
AROUND — the proximity operator
Use this operator to limit search results to documents where one term appears within a certain number of words of a second term. It helps you separate the signal from the noise.
Syntax: term1 AROUND(n) term2
Example 1: fracking AROUND(3) regulations
This search will only bring back pages where the term “fracking” appears within three words of the term “regulations,” such as “fracking wastewater regulations,” “regulations for fracking,” “regulations governing local fracking” and so on.
Example 2: local police AROUND(3) military equipment
You can apply that same single-term approach to phrases. This search will bring back pages where the phrase “local police” appears within three words of the phrase “military equipment.”
related: — the related operator
The [ related: ] operator basically answers the question: Are there more where that came from? It finds sites similar to the one you specify.
Example 1: related:ncsl.org
If you’re getting quality news from the National Conference of State Legislatures online at ncsl.org, the above search would find a host of related websites.
Example 2: related:ncsl.org/research/energy.aspx
If you like a specific section of a site, like NCSL’s energy coverage, and want to find more web pages out there like it, use the full path to that section.
allinanchor: / inanchor: – the “in anchor” operator
Using the [ allinanchor: ] and [ inanchor: ] search operators allows you to search hyperlinked text in the page. The only difference between the two is that the [ allinanchor: ] operator applies to every query term you use and the [ inanchor: ] operator applies only to the term directly following it.
Example 1: allinanchor:online lottery sales
This search will return pages in which all three of those words are included in the clickable text of hyperlinks.
Example 2: inanchor:broadband rural Minnesota
This will only search for the term [ broadband ] in hyperlink text on the page, while the terms [ rural ] and [ Minnesota ] will be searched for normally.
allintext: / intext: — the “in text” operator
The operators [ allintext: ] and [ intext: ] function the same way as , but they restrict search results to pages including the query terms only in the regular text of the page.
Example 1: allintext:Common Core standards
Those who are looking for information on Common Core curriculum standards — and who want to make sure the topic is discussed within the main text — could use the search shown above. In this case, all three terms would be in the main body of the web pages returned by the search engine.
Example 2: intext:funding transportation Texas Abbott
If you’re looking for pages regarding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan for transportation funding, but want to make sure the term “funding” is included in the body of text, you would use the above search. In that example, the terms “transportation,” “Texas” and “Abbott” are searched for normally.
allintitle: / intitle: — the “in title” operator
With the search operators [ allintitle: ] and [ intitle: ], you can limit results to pages that include your chosen query terms in the title. Again, the only difference between the two operators is that [ allintitle: ] makes sure every term typed into the search bar will be in the title, while [ intitle: ] only affects the term directly after the operator.
Example 1: allintitle:e-cigarette regulation Illinois
To find entire articles dedicated to the topic of e-cigarette regulation in Illinois, the above search is appropriate. You’d find articles with titles like “Illinois Lawmakers Seek Regulation of E-Cigarette Liquids.”
Example 2: intitle:ridesharing legislation Uber
In this case, the term “ridesharing” is the only one that must appear in the title. In other words, this search will gain you access to articles on ridesharing that likely discuss legislation and the ridesharing company, Uber, somewhere in the text.
allinurl: / inurl: — the “in url” operator
Another handy set of operators that restricts results to a certain part of the page are [ allinurl: ] and [ inurl: ]. I’m sure you can guess what these do. They include only pages with your query terms in the URL — the actual web address itself. These two operators tend to function similarly to the [ allintitle: ] and [ intitle: ] operators, as many sites put the full title of an article in the web address.
Example 1: allinurl:cybersecurity laws
This search will net you results on the topic of computer-network security legislation with the words “cybersecurity” and “laws” directly in the URL.
Example 2: inurl:California water regulations
If you’re looking for results on the topic of water regulations in California, but specifically want to see the name of that state in the URL, you would use the above search.
filetype: — the “file type” operator
This search operator is indispensable for people who need access to certain kinds of files on a topic. Whether you’re seeking JPEG images, Microsoft Word documents or Windows Media Video files, the [ filetype: ] operator will get the job done.
Example 1: filetype:pdf state of the state 2014
Let’s suppose you’re looking for State of the State addresses from 2014, and that you want your results specifically in PDF format. A regular search for those terms could include something useful, but you’d have to sift through pages upon pages of results. The search listed above will restrict results to PDF files.
Example 2: filetype:doc Affordable Care Act California
This is an effective search if you’re looking for Microsoft Word documents referencing California’s laws under the Affordable Care Act.
info: — the “web page info” operator
The search operator [ info: ] will give you more information about a specific web page by copy/pasting the URL after the operator. It’s pretty handy. This powerful operator can gain you access to cached versions of a web page, similar pages, pages that link to that specific site, pages linking from that specific site, and other pages that contain that web address in their text.
Example 1: info:nga.org
Let’s assume you want to find out what types of websites link to the National Governor’s Association web page at nga.org. You’d search the above and then click on “find web pages that link to nga.org.”
Example 2: info:csg.org
To see a previous version of the Council of State Governments website, you’d search the above and click “show Google’s cache of csg.org.”
link: — the “what links to this page?” operator
An even quicker way to find a representative sample of pages that point to a specific URL via links is to use the [ link: ] operator.
Example 1: link:nasbo.org
If you’re interested in seeing what sites are linking to the National Association of State Budget Officers website at nasbo.org, you’d search the above.
Example 2: link:governing.com
Or maybe you want to see who’s citing their facts with links to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. The above search would get you the information you need.
[ .. ] — the “number range“ operator
The number range operator [ .. ] allows you to search for results containing numbers within a certain range.
Example 1: Wisconsin budget 1995..2011
The above search would return results on the Wisconsin budget that may reference the years between 1995 and 2011.
Example 2: state minimum wage $7.75..$8.75
Dollar figures also work with the number range operator. To see documents on state minimum wages between $7.75 and $8.75, you could use the search in the example.
OR – the “or” operator
Using the operator [ OR ] allows you to identify alternative terms to use as synonyms in a search without requiring both terms to be present in the document.
Example 1: carbon OR co2 OR greenhouse gas regulations
By using this search, you’d get results on carbon dioxide emissions regulations that contain different variations in terminology.
Example 2: education OR schools OR universities Dayton
This search would work if you want to find examples of Gov. Mark Dayton talking about issues related to education, but aren’t sure which terms to use.
site: — the “just give me results from a single site” operator
The [ site: ] operator allows you to limit search results to a specific website.
Example 1: drowsy driving laws site:ncsl.org
To find information on drowsy driving laws on the National Conference of State Legislatures website mentioned earlier, you would search the above.
Example 2: transportation bill site:nasbo.org
If you’re seeking literature on transportation-related bills, but want to restrict your results to the website of the National Association of State Budget Officers, you’d use this search.
( – ) — the minus operator
You can use a minus sign to exclude certain terms or file types from your searches. This is an efficient way to help narrow your results, especially when you’re seeing something over and over that you don’t need.
Example 1: Medicaid reform North Carolina -house
The above search would work if you, say, wanted information on Medicaid reform in North Carolina, but you don’t want any mentions of the House of Representatives. The minus symbols ensure that no instances of the word “house” will show up in the search results.
Example 2: border security laws -California -Arizona
To find information on border security laws without getting results mentioning Arizona or California, you could use this search.
Combining Operators (Hold on to Your Hats)
You can also use multiple search operators in conjunction. Here are even more examples, except this time using combinations of operators:
Operator Combination: [or] + [minus] + [filetype:]
Scenario: Taking an example from above a step further, let’s say you’re looking for any mention of “health care” in your search for Medicaid reform in North Carolina, and also, you don’t want to see any Word documents.
Example: Medicaid OR “health care” reform “North Carolina” -house -filetype:doc
Operator Combination: [allintitle:] + [filetype:]
Scenario: You’re looking for articles with titles related to drone legislation, but you don’t want any PDFs.
Example: allintitle:drone legislation -filetype:pdf
Operator Combination: [or] + [filetype:]
Scenario: You’re looking for spreadsheet templates pertaining to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California, but want to include the term “Obamacare.”
Example: filetype:xls “Affordable Care Act” OR Obamacare California
Operator Combination: [site:] + [AROUND(n)]
Scenario: You want to search the National Academy for State Health Policy website for recent articles on dental coverage under Medicaid, but you want to make sure the words “dental” and “Medicaid” appear together.
Example: site:nashp.org medicaid AROUND(2) dental
3 Bonus Search Tips
In addition to using advanced search operators, you should also be mindful of the following:
1. Look for term variations (“soda” = “soft drink” = “pop”)
Just because one state legislative body is using a certain term in its bills doesn’t mean all the other states are following suit. For instance, if you’re looking for references to soda taxes, it’s helpful to know that some bills instead use the terms “pop,” “soft drink” or “sugar-sweetened beverage.”
Read up to make sure you’re aware of any reference variations — some recommended reading could include legislation summaries, finalized bills or local news articles to learn the various keywords associated with that topic.
2. Account for alternate spellings and misspellings
Along those same lines, you should consider alternate spellings — or even common misspellings — of the words you’re targeting.
Consider the “farmers market.” Or is it “farmer’s market?” Or “farmers’ market?” You might even search for those same variations, but a misspelling “framer’s market,” “framers’ market”, etc.
If you don’t want any potential bills related to farmers markets slipping through the cracks, you should use all of the above when you build your search.
3. Use quotations for specific industry terms
Once you’ve armed yourself with a pertinent keyword vocabulary, it’s time to get to work creating the most effective searching strategy you can.
In the interest of providing a truly comprehensive guide, it’s worth noting one of the foundations of successful searches: quotation marks.
If you want multiple words to appear together in a phrase, put quotation marks around them. If you’re looking for bills referencing public pensions, you want to search “public pensions” to avoid getting off-topic results.