I don't have much success searching on ELU or TGO, the only sites I use regularly. For example today, I wanted to find out what a "well received question" was. I put the question into the search bar in the Help Center, and many, many questions showed up, all of which started with "What" and none of which talked about a well-received question. So I Googled "Well received question", SE and quickly got the answer.

Is this SOP among those in the know: to go outside SE and google for an SE term?

My favorite SE search result: Looking for a question on the dangers of cougars to hikers and finding this question on mayonnaise https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/1265/how-long-does-mayonnaise-last-unrefrigerated-in-the-back-country.

Seriously, should we just forget about SE searches and go to Google? Or are there techniques to make the SE searches more useful?

  • 3
    Click on Advanced Search Tips on the sidebar, specifying if you want the words in a body or in a question (for example) usually narrows it down. body:well-received and is:question well-received
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2017 at 7:04
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    ColleenV and @Mari-LouA or some other intrepid user should put their helpful comments in an answer or two, before they get deleted.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Aug 15, 2017 at 11:28
  • @KitZ.Fox I fully expect my comment to be removed, although I hope was helpful. I don't consider pointing someone to the help for SE search syntax to be a complete answer to a question looking for techniques. I'm swamped at work at the moment or I would take the time to write a proper answer.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 15, 2017 at 11:57
  • @Kit Z Fox Please give me time to try them out before you delete! Which will not be today. Or should I print them out?
    – ab2
    Aug 15, 2017 at 13:19
  • I'm not going to delete them today. I'm reminding our high rep users not to post answers as comments!
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Aug 15, 2017 at 13:40
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    I looked up TGO and found "Tennessee Gun Owners", I felt slightly freaked out, then I found "The Great One", and I thought it must be some religious sect before I realised it was the SE website The Great Outdoors, which I did not even know it existed until today.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2017 at 15:02
  • @Mari-Lou A I am not a Tennessee Gun Owner, nor a devotee of The Great One. I do, however, enjoy Garden and Gun magazine when I find it at a doctor's office.
    – ab2
    Aug 15, 2017 at 18:58
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    @ColleenV Partial answers are encouraged.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 15, 2017 at 22:00
  • 2
    @MetaEd I appreciate the nudge, but I'm just not able to write a half-assed answer, and I'm working 14 hour days so there's no time or energy for a whole-assed answer ;) It probably took me 20 minutes to write that "throw-away" comment. I'm tired and getting my SE fix in small stolen breaks on a cell phone which has an auto-correct algorithm that I swear is designed to make me look stupid so I have to triple check everything.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 16, 2017 at 3:57
  • @ColleenV Glad to see another person who spends huge amounts of time to produce a tiny amount of text. I've preserved your comment and Mari-Lou's as a community wiki. You can use it to post a proper answer at your leisure.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 16, 2017 at 23:01
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    @Lawrence Thanks! I've cleaned up my comment. I would say more, but it's late :)
    – ColleenV
    Aug 17, 2017 at 2:40
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    @Lawrence the community-wiki post is a considerate gesture but speaking for myself, I won't be writing a full answer because Laurel's answer is very thorough, there is nothing more to add. My comment was just a tip, nothing more and nothing less than that.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 17, 2017 at 6:05
  • @ColleenV I'd say, "You're welcome", but the last time I did that, both my comment and the note of thanks disappeared. I'll try out the less flattering comment-upvote. :)
    – Lawrence
    Aug 17, 2017 at 9:53
  • @Mari-LouA That's ok. With all the talk recently about the perils of comments, I thought I'd capture some good points before they disappear. :)
    – Lawrence
    Aug 17, 2017 at 9:56
  • I find the best way of searching for a question in SE is to click on Ask question and enter the search terms in the title field. You get a good selection of potential duplicates = search results..
    – Chenmunka
    Aug 22, 2017 at 12:21

2 Answers 2


The Help Center really only covers the most basic stuff (the list of privileges is pretty good though). You can get better results by searching Meta. It's worth noting that you'll get more (and often better) results on the Main Meta or Meta Stack Overflow.

They're working on improving search as part of the Channels project on Stack Overflow:

I can vouch for the fact that search work will be a big part of this project. We are aware of shortcomings with our search and will be improving it as part of Channels. — Haney♦

I'm not sure when any of that is going to happen, so I've listed some stuff you can do already to get better results.

Native searches

There are a few places you can search built right in. Some people swear that the Ask a question page is a great way to find things, but you can't use any of the search operators. While it does support search operators, I don't like using the "close as duplicate" search because it only searches for "answered" questions. I like using the regular search bar in the corner (which is what I'm giving advice about here).

First of all, make sure you're on the best tab for what you're trying to do. If I think I'm looking for a popular post, I might use the voted tab, for example. The other thing to use is the right search operators. Check the help center for a full list of search operators. Here are some worth noting:

  • Quotes help you find a specific word or phrase. Quoting a word will keep other "conjugations" from matching (e.g. "word" will not match words).
  • Exclude a word, phrase, or tag with -word, -"not this phrase", -[tag].
  • Search questions or answers with is:q or is:a respectively. Searching for answers is helpful when you think a is a duplicate, for example.
  • Search the title or the body with title: and body: respectively. The title operator is pretty useful in particular because important stuff ends up in the title.
  • Tag search with [brackets]. I have not have much luck with this on ELU (because too much is tagged only ). On some sites, it's really useful (for example, programming language tags on Stack Overflow).
  • Find questions that are closed or not with closed:no

External searches

Some people prefer to use a search engine like Google. One advantage is that it will return results that use similar words (e.g. you used the word beginning, you get matches for start) and misspellings. Or, you can use quotes around a word or phrase to get an exact match.

Another good tip is to use the site: operator to restrict the search to one site. For example, like this: site:english.stackexchange.com.

The links at the bottom of this page will have more information on search operators or advanced search.

Searching all of SE

It's also worth noting that https://stackexchange.com has a custom Google search bar that lets you search the entire network, including metas. This is the easiest way to search only SE sites.


Ultimately, my advice is to not limit yourself to one method of searching. In fact, it's often appropriate to mix search operators while searching (you can also use the same search operator multiple times in a single search). Experiment and find what works best for you and what you're trying to find.

Also, a good proactive measure is to edit, edit, edit! Make sure the tags are accurate, make sure everything is spelled right, and make more drastic edits when it makes the post easier to find.

  • 1
    Hot d**n! I tried searching all of SE and it worked!
    – ab2
    Aug 15, 2017 at 23:07

Useful tips preserved from comments to the question:

  • I put "well received question" in the Meta search bar and got relevant results. You have to be smart about which site you're searching for what sort of topic. Discussion on meta is far more likely than the help center to answer questions about community standards. Once you get the hang of the search syntax, SE search is superior for finding SE content. For general queries, Google will usually return OK results with less effort, but you can't refine your search with tags, score, etc., so it's harder to get a short list of good results. – ColleenV

  • Click on Advanced Search Tips on the sidebar, specifying if you want the words in a body or in a question (for example) usually narrows it down. body:well-received and is:question well-receivedMari-Lou A

  • 1
    Thanks for this community service!
    – ab2
    Aug 16, 2017 at 23:26

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