Searching the community

This article is an introduction to searching the AoPS forums. All searching takes place from one of three pages: the main webpage, any of the specific forums, or from the dedicated webpage.

Searching methods

Searching from the community

Searching from the community page

The first of these two options is shown in the image to the right. It is primarily useful for quickly searching, especially when the search is of a general nature and without a specific post in mind. The method is simple: simply type your query into the "Search Community" field, click the magnifying glass (or press the Enter key), and posts containing terms matching your query will be shown to you. The parts of the posts that match your query will be highlighted in yellow. For example, when searching for problems involving a circle, one would simply type "circle" into the indicated field, getting a result similar to the following image:

Result of searching "circle"

Clicking on any of these results will open the full topic in which the post was made, starting from the post you clicked on. For example, if the post you clicked on was the fourth post in its topic, you would originally see that post and could scroll up (or down) to see the rest of the topic.

If these are not the results you were looking for, you can click the "Edit search settings" link in the top right corner to adjust your search parameters.

Searching from a forum

It is possible to initiate a search from a specific forum, using the toolbar on its header. This will limit the search results to posts in that forum.

The header of a forum

To search from a forum, click the magnifying glass on its header (see image to the right). This will redirect you to the main search webpage, with the forum information already filled in.

Searching from the main webpage

Searching from the webpage

This page can be reached in three ways: by clicking on the "Advanced search" button under the quick-search option shown above, through the Community drop-down menu, or directly through the link Compared to the other options, the webpage gives you significantly more ways to customize your search. There are five different fields to be filled in, but any of them can be left blank. For example, to search for all posts by rrusczyk made within the last year, the "search term" and "Posted In forum" fields should be left blank, but the other fields should be filled out with the appropriate information. It is even possible to leave every field blank, in which case the search results will mimic the global feed. The five fields are:

Search fields
Field Function
Search term Fairly self-explanatory: enter the term(s) that you are searching for. Note that titles, tags, posts, and sources are all simultaneously searched. To search these separately, click the indicated option. It is possible to search different places for different terms simultaneously; for example, to search for AMC problems using Simon's Favorite Factoring Trick, search for posts containing "SFFT" in topics with source containing "AMC". The indicated option will also allow you the choice of restricting your search to opening posts. This field is blank by default, indicating that all posts are searched regardless of content.

Searching for multiple terms will return posts matching at least one of those terms, prioritizing posts "closer" to the query as a whole. See the following section for ways to further customize these queries. Note that it is also possible to search for multiple tags, which will return posts under at least one of those tags.

Posted By User Enter the name(s) of user(s) to restrict your search to. The search results will only contain posts posted by the user(s) you entered. Note that the posters of the original topics may be different from the users you enter here. You can also search by user ID instead of username, if you happen to know the ID of the user you are searching for (you can find this in their profile URL, which is of the form<user ID>). Users entered must be valid users and will be authenticated prior to searching. This field is blank by default, indicating that posts by all users are searched.
Posted In Forum Enter the name(s) of forum(s) to restrict your search to. The search results will only contain posts posted in the forum(s) you entered. If you reached this webpage through clicking on the magnifying glass in one of the forums, this field will be pre-populated with that forum. Forums entered must be valid forums and will be authenticated prior to searching. This field is blank by default, indicating that all forums are searched.

Note: On the previous website, forums were associated with a unique ID that could be used in searching, similar to user ID numbers, but this is no longer the case; type in the name of the forum instead.

Dates Select the timeframe in which posts you're searching for must have been made. The options are "Any" (default), "During the last 24 hours", "During the last week", "During the last month", "During the last year", or any manually entered date range.
Sorting Select whether to sort results by "Relevance" (default), "Newest first", or "Oldest first". If "relevance" is selected, the posts will be sorted according to a scoring algorithm that approximates how well a post correlates to the search query. The other two options, "Newest first" and "Oldest first", are self-explanatory.
Posts by rrusczyk in the last year

For example, to search for the aforementioned posts made by rrusczyk within the last year, the "Search term" field should be blank, the "Posted by User" field should contain rrusczyk, the "Posted in Forum" field should be blank, the "Dates" field should be set to "During the last year", and the "Sorting" field can be set according to how the searcher wishes the results to be presented. The image to the right shows how this search looks on the webpage.

Topics started by rrusczyk in the last year

To search instead for topics that rrusczyk has started within the last year, the steps are the same, except that the "search only the first post of each topic" option should be selected. To reach that option, click first on the "Click here to search titles, posts, sources, and tags separately" text, then check the box indicated. The image on the left shows how this search looks on the webpage. Of course, in both searches it is possible to further narrow the results by including the forum it was posted in, text that should be present in returned posts, and so on. It is also possible to expand the search to posts by rrusczyk and copeland, or even posts by copeland about rrusczyk.

Getting the most out of search

Searching for a specific post

One of the most common uses of search is to find a specific post that you remember some details about, but cannot find. For example, you might recall having once read a particularly well-written solution, a very nice question, or an important announcement, but you can't remember quite where you saw it before. How frustrating!

Obviously, the more details you remember about the post, the more likely you are to find it. If you remember that, for example, the post was written sometime in the summer of 2013, you can set the date range from (for example) May to September of that year. If you remember the author, that narrows down the possibilities significantly, but even remembering that it was one of several authors is a good way to whittle the possibilities down. Finally, remembering the forum that it was posted in would be excellent, but even if you only vaguely remember the post, you can make some educated guesses. For example, if the post was about a new and exciting technique for the USAMO, it was probably posted in either the Contests & Programs forum or the High School Olympiads forum. If the post was a collection of MATHCOUNTS strategies, it's almost certainly in Middle School Math.

General searching tips

Of course, the above strategies are helpful, but still leave a lot of posts to sift through - unless you remember some of the language used in the post. You might remember, for example, a particularly memorable phrase in the post, or perhaps they used a math problem as reference that you remember a bit about. In these cases,

  • Include, in your search query, unusual or uncommon words. For example, searching for just the word "circumcenter", along with the tips in the previous section, narrows down the possibilities significantly
  • Avoid common words such as "a", "the", "of", and so on, even if you remember a word-for-word phrase from the post containing these words. You'll get bogged down in posts matching those words - which there are a lot of!
  • Avoid searching words that are contained within another common word, as they will get matched to words you certainly didn't intend. For example, search queries containing the word "in" might return results for "logging", "Inequality", and so on. The word "a" is particularly guilty of this, as it often returns words containing the letter "a".
  • Be sure to avoid searching for words that are special modifiers - see the below section. In particular, avoid searches containing the words "and" and "not". Similarly, do not include quotes ("), asterisks (*), question marks (?), plus signs (+), minus signs (-), or parentheses as these all represent special commands.
  • Search engines in general are not very good at searching for mathematical symbols or numbers, so you are generally better off searching for text instead. For example, searching the text of a problem rather than equations or expressions is likely to produce better results.

For example, if you remember a post contained the phrase "the three perpendicular bisectors of a triangle intersect at the circumcenter", your search query should be something similar to "perpendicular bisectors intersect circumcenter", as these are all specific words that limit the number of posts returned (unlike words like "of", "a", "the", and "at").

Customizing search queries

We've already mentioned that posts are matched to the search query using a scoring algorithm, which approximates how "close" a post is to the given query. However, especially when searching for multiple terms, this algorithm often weights certain factors in different ways than the user intended. As such, there are several ways to customize your search queries.

Customizing search queries
Operator Example Result
(no adjustment) incenter circumcenter Returns posts containing the word "incenter" and/or the word "circumcenter", with higher weight given to posts containing both.
+ +incenter circumcenter Returned posts must contain the word "incenter", but may or may not contain "circumcenter". Again, higher weight is given to posts containing both words.
- -incenter circumcenter excenter Returned posts must not contain the word "incenter". Returned posts will contain the word "circumcenter" and/or the word "excenter", with higher weight given to posts containing both.
AND incenter AND circumcenter Returned posts must contain both "incenter" and "circumcenter". This is equivalent to the query "+incenter +circumcenter".
NOT incenter NOT circumcenter Returned posts will contain "incenter", but will not contain "circumcenter". Equivalent to the "-" and "!" operators.
"" (quotes) "incenter circumcenter" Returns posts containing the phrase "incenter circumcenter". Punctuation is usually ignored in results, so posts containing "incenter, circumcenter" or "incenter-circumcenter" will also be returned.
? and * te?t, inc*, in*e Wildcard symbols. The ? symbol allows any character to replace it, so posts containing the words "test" or "text" will match the query "te?t". The * symbol allows any number of characters to replace it, so posts containing the words "incenter", "incircle", "inclusive", etc. will match the query "inc*". The * symbol can also be used in the middle of a word, so posts containing the words "interface", "incircle", "intermediate", "infinite", etc. will all match the query "in*e".
() (parentheses) incenter AND (circumcenter OR excenter) Grouping symbols to allow one boolean command (e.g. AND, NOT, +, -, !) to modify multiple elements. The example returns posts that contain both "incenter" and at least one of "circumcenter" or "excenter". Equivalent to the query (incenter AND circumcenter) OR (incenter AND excenter) (Boolean logic applies to search strings).
\ \AND An "escape" character that allows you to search for reserved keywords and symbols. For example, the above query will return posts containing the word "and". Without the escape character, the search engine would parse the query "AND" as a command linking two nonexistent terms, and would thus throw an error. Similarly, the search term "incenter \AND circumcenter" would include results containing the word "incenter" and the word "and", but not the word "circumcenter".

Note: in order to search for terms containing backslashes, such as LaTeX commands, the somewhat non-intuitive \\ is necessary (the first backslash "escapes" the second one).

Note that, when using search modifiers, the yellow background indicating words that match your query will not generally be entirely accurate; for example, searching for "incenter AND circumcenter" will return posts containing both words as expected, but the word "and" will also be highlighted. Don't get confused by this - the search engine is still searching according to your query (and is not searching for the word "and"), the highlighting is simply slightly misleading.

Searching for LaTeX and Asymptote

Searching for LaTeX or Asymptote can be complicated, as they are their own languages, but this can actually be a big advantage! Predicting what code they've used is usually quite easy, and since the keywords are generally quite unique, searching for them will often narrow results down to posts using LaTeX/Asymptote themselves. Below are some common commands that LaTeX/Asymptote users often use, to help you search for them.

Searching for LaTeX

LaTeX is a programming language for rendering mathematical statements, and is very popular on AoPS (and other mathematical sources). LaTeX commands are enclosed in dollar signs for rendering, but you should not generally include those while searching. If you are searching for "full" commands (e.g. \frac{1}{2}), it is highly recommended that you enclose the entire command with quotation marks (e.g. "\\frac{1}{2}"; recall double backslash is needed), as otherwise it may parse as three different search terms (\frac, 1, and 2).

Common LaTeX commands
Command Use Example Rendered
\frac Creates fractions \frac{1}{2} $\frac{1}{2}$
\sqrt Creates square (or, more generally, $n$th) roots \sqrt{3}, \sqrt[3]{3} $\sqrt{3}$, $\sqrt[3]{3}$
\leq, \neq, \geq Less than or equal to, not equal to, greater than or equal to (respectively) a \leq b, a \neq b, a \geq b $a \leq b, a \neq b, a \geq b$
\alpha Renders greek letters (most often alpha, beta, epsilon, pi, theta, phi, and omega) \alpha+\beta=\pi-\epsilon $\alpha+\beta=\pi-\epsilon$
\rightarrow, \implies, \iff Used for implication, algorithms, etc. a>b \implies a^2>b^2, a>b \iff a-b>0, A\rightarrow A+1 $a>b \implies a^2>b^2, a>b \iff a-b>0, A\rightarrow A+1$
\sum, \prod, \int Used for summation, product, and integration symbols \sum_1^5 x=15, \prod_1^5x=120, \int_1^5x=12 $\sum_1^5 x=15, \prod_1^5x=120, \int_1^5x=12$

See LaTeX:Symbols for a more comprehensive list of LaTeX commands, and use the TeXeR to test how commands look when rendered.

Searching for Asymptote

Asymptote is a programming language for creating diagrams. Unlike LaTeX, dollar signs are not necessary, and Asymptote code is enclosed in [asy] tags. Asymptote commands take the form of most modern programming languages; lines are generally of the form command(param1, param2, ...) (this is different from TeX, where each parameter is enclosed in separate brackets).

"Unfortunately" (for our purposes), most Asymptote commands are simply the word-for-word descriptors of their function; for example, the command that returns the midpoint of a path is simply "midpoint", and the command that returns the circumcenter of a triangle is "circumcenter". This is further complicated by the usage of variables, the names of which are entirely up to the posters (unlike TeX, in which variables are generally not used). Below are commonly used Asymptote commands that are not actual words, so they are less likely to be confused with other posts during searching.

Common Asymptote commands
Command Purpose Command Purpose
defaultpen Adjusts the default settings for the pen. Very likely for this command to be in an Asymptote drawing. orthographic Adjust the "camera position" in 3-D drawings. Very likely for this command to be in a 3-D Asymptote drawing.
filldraw Colors a given shape in some manner. Useful for shading in parts of diagrams; used reasonably foten. unitsize Sets the default size of a "unit" to a specified value. Default is very small. Not used particularly often because defaultpen is more general.
intersectionpoint Determines the intersection (if there is exactly one) of two paths. Very useful command, and thus in many drawings. intersectionpoints Determine all the intersections of two paths. Obviously very similar to the previous command, but slightly less used as we generally want to know the intersection point of lines (rather than arbitrary paths).
rightanglemark Marks a given angle as right. Used, obviously, in diagrams containing right angles; there are many of these. anglemark Marks a given angle with a given value. Used surprisingly little, since directly marking angles isn't generally that important, but angle chase solutions will make heavy use of it.
linewidth Sets the (visual -- lines have no real width!) width of a line. Also little used because defaultpen is more general. currentpicture A reference to the current picture. Used as an auxiliary command in other commands. This is the default value, so it is used only in very complicated drawings (or as a formality/copied and pasted sections).

Note that simply searching "asy" will generally turn up Asymptote drawings or discussions of such; especially when combined with a username or date range, simply remembering a post had any Asymptote in it whatsoever is usually a good way to find it. As Asymptote becomes more and more popular, the previous statement will become less true (LaTeX, for example, is in a huge number of posts these days), but for now the numbers are small enough that you can sift through them pretty quickly.

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