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Help - Search Tips

Help contents

How can I limit the number of records retrieved?

To receive more precise results, use the Refine Search link or main Search link and try one or more of the following:

  • Be more specific with your keywords.
  • Try searching within a date range.
  • Where possible, try limiting your search to selected genres.

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Can I search on an exact phrase?

Yes - putting quotation marks around a phrase will allow Black Literature Index to search for an exact phrase, e.g. "Martin Luther King".

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Which wildcard operators can I use to search Black Literature Index for variations on a search term?

Black Literature Index allows you to list records containing variations on a word or number by using the following characters, referred to as "wildcard operators". The wildcards represent one or more characters in a word or number:

Note: Wildcards will not work in the Black Literature Index Microfiche field.

Wildcard Description Example
@ matches one alphabetical character exactly l@st will find last, lest, list, lost
# matches one numeric character exactly #600 will find 1600, 2600, etc.
* matches any character(s) polic* will find policies, policing, policy, policyholders
? matches one character exactly la?er will find later, laser, la3er, etc.
[] matches only one character specified within the brackets; a hyphen can be used to indicate a range of numbers or letters 199[1-6] will find 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996
[^] matches any character except the next character 199[^1-3] will not find 1991, 1992 or 1993, but will find 1994 etc.
_ the underscore matches zero/one characters

colo_r will find color, colour

\ treats the next character literally, and not as an operator


To search using a wildcard:

  • Type the stem of the word with one of the wildcard operators in the search box. You can position wildcard operators at the beginning, middle, or end of a search term/word. Click the Search button.

Any records that contain variations on the word you typed will appear on the List of Results page.

Note: If you use a wildcard in one of your search words, Black Literature Index does not expand the search word to include related meanings or variant spellings; it only implements the wildcard operator.

Tip 1: using ~ (tilde) to search for alternative spellings

Prefix words with a ~tilde if you are unsure of the spelling.

Example: If you are unsure of the correct spelling of Phillis Wheatley, you can search on the term ~Phillis or ~Phyllis and the search will still return results for the correct spelling.

Tip 2: using " " (double quotes) to search for an exact word or phrase

Search for an exact word or phrase by using double quotation marks. This stops the search engine from using the thesaurus.

Example: A search on "civil war" will return all records containing the terms as a phrase.

Tip 3: using ( ) (parenthesis) to search for grouped statements

Use parenthesis to group statements.

Example: A search on (JFK Kennedy) election will return all records mentioning JFK or Kennedy and the word election.

Tip 4: using : (colon) to weight search terms

Use a colon to weight terms. Weights range from 1-10.

Example: A search on egypt suez:10 canal will return records with hits on suez (and its expansions) being ranked 10 times higher than hits on egypt or canal (and their expansions).

Tip 5: case sensitivity

All searches are case-insensitive, so you don't have to know whether a word should be capitalized or not. For example, there is no difference between Alabama, alabama or aLabama.

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