The following is a guest post by Tina Gheen, the project manager for Congress.gov in the Office of the Chief Information Officer of the Library of Congress. Tina was formerly an emerging technologies librarian with the Law Library of Congress.
You may have noticed changes to the Congress.gov homepage in one of our recent updates. We streamlined the site header, and we also integrated more search options directly into the search box on the homepage in response to user feedback. But did you know there are even more search options available? This post will walk you through the different search options available on Congress.gov and help you get started on your journey to discover U.S. federal legislative information.
Let’s start with the Search Bar. The Search Bar is the search box you see at the top of most pages on Congress.gov, and it is the simplest and most basic search option on Congress.gov.
From the Search Bar, you can simply type in keywords, like tax or hr1, to begin your search. By default, the search is limited to the current Congress, but you can easily change the focus of your search by clicking on the dropdown box on the left labeled Current Legislation. This menu will allow you to expand your search to All Sources in Congress.gov, All Legislation since 1973, or allow you to limit your search to the current Congress or any of the document collections in Congress.gov, including Committee Reports, the Congressional Record, Nominations, Treaty Documents, House Communications, or Senate Communications.
After you click the magnifying glass icon on the far right to execute your search, you can limit your results in any number of ways using the handy filters that appear in the sidebar next to your search results. If you don’t see any filters, try clicking “Show Filters” just above your search results list. You can also search within your results list by clicking the “Search Within” checkbox in the Search Bar at the top of your results page and typing in more keywords in the Search Bar.
Next, let’s take a look at the Search Forms. Search Forms are easily accessed by clicking “More Options” under the Search Bar.
Search Forms are designed to guide you through a search of a specific collection of information on Congress.gov. As you can see in the menu on the left in the screenshot above, there is a special Search Form for each of the document collections in Congress.gov: Legislation; Legislation Text; Committee Reports; the Congressional Record; Nominations; Treaty Documents; House Communications; and Senate Communications. Just click on the collection you want to search from the menu on the left, and the form will change to show you fields relevant to that collection. You can still type in keywords using the search box at the very top of each form (often referred to on Congress.gov as the Words and Phrases box), but you can also apply limits to your search using the checkboxes directly under the Words and Phrases box and make additional selections from dropdowns in the form.
The Search Bar and the Search Forms may be all most users need to find information on Congress.gov. But for users looking for even more ways to search, we also have more advanced searching options available. To access these searches, just click on Advanced Searches to the right of the Congress.gov logo in the header. Clicking this link exposes three new search options: Advanced Legislation, Query Builder, and Command Line Search.
Advanced Legislation Search
By default, clicking on the Advanced Searches link takes you to the Legislation Advanced Search Form. As the name suggests, this form is targeted specifically to searches just for legislation, which includes bills, resolutions, amendments, and laws.
Here you will find many ways to limit your search: by Congress, legislation type, specific legislative actions, members, committees, subjects, and more. The jump links on the right side of the form allow you to quickly navigate to the various parts of the form. Each of these sections is designed to guide you through the process of crafting a complex search for legislation using a combination of picklists, dropdown selections, and text boxes where you can type in your own search keywords. Check out our Legislation Advanced Form Help section for even more detailed information about how you can use the different sections of this form to tailor your search.
The Query Builder allows savvy users to create precise, complex searches and is the search tool of choice for many legislation experts here at the Library of Congress. This search form will allow you to build your own fielded search with Boolean operators using a combination of dropdown menus and text fields.
The plus (+) and minus (-) controls on the far left allow you to create nested searches, and the Boolean operators (AND, OR, or AND NOT) allow you to combine simple or nested searches together. The first dropdown menu allows you to specify the scope of your search: across all sources or limited to a specific collection (Legislation, Committee Reports, the Congressional Record, Nominations, Treaty Documents, House Communications, Senate Communications, as well as Members). The rest of the dropdowns are contextual, based upon your selections in the previous dropdowns, but generally will show you a list of fields related to a specific collection or will allow you to specify proximity (e.g., “is near”) or a limiter (e.g., “is equal to”). The Query Builder also includes a calendar-based date selector for certain fields to make searching by date that much easier.
And last but certainly not least, Congress.gov offers Command Line search for extremely advanced users.
The Command Line interface is a blank slate that allows users to type their own searches from scratch using field names and Boolean operators (AND, OR, or AND NOT). You can find a list of field names and the search syntax you will need for this type of search, as well as search examples on our Search Tools page. Also note the search box can be expanded even further for longer queries by clicking and dragging the bottom right corner of the box.
Our phenomenal subject matter experts in the Law Library and the Congressional Research Service are constantly adding and updating helpful information to Congress.gov to guide and assist users. You can read more about how to pick a search page, catch up on bite-sized Search Tips, and view more comprehensive information about all our search tools by visiting the Help section of the website. Or you can sign up for a free webinar to learn more about Congress.gov. Also be sure to take a look at our extensive Browse page, which features frequently-requested lists and prepared searches such as Public Laws and daily Action on Legislation.