Search Help

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Basic Search

Let's start with something simple like this video overview of basic searching.

By default, your search is set to Keyword, but you can modify your search by selecting Title, Journal Title, Title Starts With, Author, Subject, ISBN, Series, Publisher, or Call Number from the dropdown menu.

Try typing one of the words below into the search box. Try using the same word with different modifiers (keyword, author, etc.) to see how the results change:

Easy, right? Let's try something a little more...advanced.

Advanced Keyword Search Tips

For some basic tips & trick on advanced searching, try this video tutorial.

Advanced Searching gives you more control over your searches. You can access it by clicking the "Advanced Search" tab within the catalog. Here you'll find options to limit your searches to a types of resources (books, DVDs, etc.), to a specific language, within a certain date range, or at a certain SWITCH library, and more. You'll also notice multiple search boxes to help you create complex search strings.

Common Advanced Search Strategies

Searching with Multiple Words

When you use multiple words, TOPCAT searches for each of the terms and automatically enters the Boolean operator AND between each. This narrows the results to include only those with all of the terms.

The terms entered will be found somewhere in the retrieved records, though not necessarily in the order entered.


Searching Information Science returns results for resources containing Information Science, Information, and Science.

Phrase Search

This option allows you to search for records that contain multiple words as a unit. For example, it searches for "Social Media" as a term rather than for records that contain both "Social" and "Media".

In many databases, this is done by enclosing the term in quotation marks. In TOPCAT, this is done using the Subject Phrase limiter which is available only on the Advanced Search page.


The search "social media" matches and retrieves records having the words Social Media as a unit.

Truncation (or abbreviating a search term)

Use the * (the asterisk character) at the end of a word or a phrase as a wildcard. This tells the system to search by the root of the word and include all possible suffixes in the results. See the examples for more explanation.


The search "liber*" matches and retrieves records having the words liberty and liberation.

defens* matches and retrieves records having defense, defensive, and defensibility.


A single question mark (?) may be used to replace a single character anywhere within a word.


wom?n will return results for woman and women.

organi?ation returns results for organization and organisation.

Boolean Operators

On the Advanced Search page you'll see a dropdown of Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) next to each search box.

Use AND to connect two or more search terms together that represent different topics you want more information about: war AND Iraq

Use OR to connect similar terms together: OCD OR obsessive compulsive disorder.

Use NOT to exclude words: cloning NOT sheep

If you use OR and AND in one search statement, enclose the OR terms within parentheses: (PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder) AND war


AND: war AND Iraq

OR: OCD OR "obsessive compulsive disorder" (NOTE: set the search limiter to subject phrase to search for "obsessive compulsive disorder" as a phrase search)

NOT: cloning NOT sheep

Field Limits

Field limits may be specified by selecting a field limit from the selection list. These limits appear before the word or phrase to be searched. A field limit causes TOPCAT to search only the specified field for the specified word(s).

There are more field limit options on the Advanced Search page dropdowns than there are on the Basic Search page dropdown.

Common Field Limits and their meanings:

  • KEYWORD: Searches across all fields (all works about/by/related to Plato)
  • AUTHOR: Searches only author fields (all works authored by/attributed to Plato)
  • TITLE: Searches only title fields (all works with "Plato" in the title)
  • SUBJECT: Searches only subject fields (all works that list "Plato" in the subjects)

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Results & Relevancy Ranking

When you run a search, your results will display in a list. By default, they are ranked to display those the system deems most relevant first. You can change how they are sorted by clicking the dropdown menu and selecting a different criteria (least to most relevant, author, call number, date, alphabetical title).

The total number of results is displayed at the top. By default, the words matching your search terms are highlighted. You can remove this highlighting by clicking the "Unhighlight" button.

As you scroll through the results, you will see where each item is held and whether or not it is available. You can add a resource to your cart or place a hold on an item directly from the results list.

There are options to further narrow your results in the lefthand sidebar. From here you can narrow the results by availability, author, location, etc.


How to Renew Your Items:

1. Log in to your TOPCAT account using the Log into My Account link found at the top of any TOPCAT screen.

2. If it is not the default view, click your name in the upper right hand corner to go to your account page. The "Your Summary" tab should be selected by default.

3. Select the materials you want to renew and click the Renew Selected button. If you want to renew everything you have checked out, click the Renew All button.

4. A new due date will appear in the "DUE" column. Always check the DUE column to confirm your renewal.

*PLEASE NOTE* If your item cannot be renewed, either because it is on reserve, you owe a fine, or for another reason, it will say "NOT RENEWABLE" and you must return the item by the original due date or risk getting an overdue fee.

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Contact your home library or our FAQ page for assistance.