Hints and Tips on How to Search on TaxAlmanac

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Hints and Tips for Searching on TaxAlmanac, the online research resource for tax professionals

Please take the time to read this entire document. It will save you hours of frustration later.

Search In a Nutshell

1) Start by using simple and broad terms, not an entire phrase. Motor home rather than motor home business mileage.

2) Click on 500 'views', the newest discussions are last, earliest posts first. If you don't do this, you will only see the first 25 posts containing your words or phrase, most of which may not be on point.

3) Don't just look for articles and titles similar to your search term, scan the discussions containing your terms by looking at the entire list that is brought up.

4) If you want to narrow your search to this year's discussions, include the year in your search. 2011 motor home.

How the Search Works

Over on the left of the screen, towards the top, there's a yellow box labelled "search." You enter some key words in the search block, and click Go. It’s a pretty standard text-match search methodology, except that you may need to try different word forms on your own (e.g., rental and rentals will give you different search results, as will ProSeries and “Pro Series”). Search resuts are sorted with the oldest discussions first; discussions started most recently will be at the bottom of the list.

As of November, 2010, the search results include a date/time of the last post, but they are still shown in roughly reverse chronological order, with the discussions started longest ago at the top of the list. For best results, read the ones at the end of the list first.

For a search example, say we want to find the instances where the word rental immediately follows the word self, so put that phrase in quotes - type the following into the search box: "self rental" - and then click OK. Here's the search result for our example: self rental. Note that doing a second search, for "self-rental", (with a hyphen) will get you different search results, so try both.

Most of the search results will be "article content matches" where the search terms are found in the content of the articles and discussions. If the search terms are found in the titles of any discussion or article, those pages will be listed in a separate section at the top of the page (again, oldest to newest).


The top of the search results shows discussions that have the search term(s) in the title (if any do), and the remainder have the search terms somewhere in the text. Since the search results are sorted earliest discussions first, it's often best to click on "50" (or "100" or "500," as applicable - on the line where it says "view") and then scroll all the way to the bottom to get to the most recent discussions. For the example above, clicking on "50" views will reveal the newest discussions (since there are more than the 20-view default could show).

Advanced Search Options

Once the search results are displayed, you can check and uncheck the boxes at the bottom to limit the results to just discussions, just code, just regs, etc., or any combination of the available options. You can even set your default preferences for these settings on your preferences page.

One major difference between the yellow search box and Advanced Search (the link just above the yellow box) is that if the yellow search box finds an exact match, it'll send you directly to that page, whereas advanced search will present a list of any page your search terms appear - including, but not limited to the exact match. So if you want "Sec. 121" literally, type it into the yellow search box. If you want any page that includes "Sec. 121" use the advanced search.

Refining the Search

Start by entering the basic words for the topic you want to search. For example IRS Quickbooks or IRS audit Quickbooks. Do not enter your entire question "Is it OK for the IRS to request a client's Quickbooks file for an audit". The more words you put into the search, the fewer results you will find with ALL of the words used. Not everyone will use the same word to describe the same thing, for example 'audit' and 'examination' might mean the same thing to you, but may find different results in a search.

If you want to refine the search, you can put additional search terms (again, with or without quotes around particular phrases) into the search box that's displayed at the bottom of the search results page. Leave your original search terms in there, and add new ones to the search box. Refining via the search box at the bottom of the page, rather than the yellow box at the side of the screen, ensures that any advanced search option boxes you’ve checked will be retained.

Limitations when searching for "common" words

If your search terms aren't specific enough, you may well get the "No articles contain your search terms" screen even when there actually are discussions that include your search terms. This tends to happen when you are searching for common words that the search engine ignores (like "never") or words/numbers that include dashes (like "W-2" or "K-1"), and sometimes also words of three characters or less, which this search engine doesn't always handle very well. If this happens to you and you want to try your search another way, click on "advanced search" (the link just above the yellow search box to the left of the screen) and use the search box at the bottom of the page - where it says "Search this webpage using Google." You can also open your preferred search engine in a separate window or tab and limit its search to taxalmanac.org by including "site:taxalmanac.org" (without the quotes) in your search terms.

Other hints and tips

User Names: You can even include user names in the search box, say if you remember a particular user writing something you want to find again. You do have to use the entire user name – the search engine will not pull up, for example, Rainman, if you search for Rain.

Or, if you know who started the discussion, copy the following and paste it into the search box as one of your search terms (including the quotes and the funky bar/divider thingy in the middle): "ForumNewPost|UserID=XXXX" (where XXXX is the exact user name).

Dates: While there’s no specific way to limit the search to a particular time period (as of yet), you can add 2010 (or 2009, or September, etc.) to your search terms, which can be especially useful when you’re searching discussions only. It’ll search both the text of the discussions and the posting dates, so you still may get more results than you’d like, but it’ll at least drop out some of the ones you were trying to exclude as too old, too new, etc.

Speed up your review of the search results: Rather than just clicking on a relevant link in the search results, reading the discussion, and then using the back button to return to the search, it can be much faster to right-click on each relevant link, to Open in a New Window. That way, the search results list remains in an open window, and any discussions you choose to open will be in separate windows. You can then switch between all of the open windows to read discussions or open other likely links.

Sort order: As mentioned above, the search results are sorted in chronological order, with the oldest discussions at the top of each section (page title matches section, article content matches section). The sort order is based on the date each discussion was begun – so a discussion that was started in 2006 but had a very recent post will still sort with the “older” discussions, not with the other current discussions at the bottom of the results list. That is why the dates shown with each excerpt may appear to be in random order, since they are not used in the sorting of the search results (they're the date of the last post).

Searching within a certain category: Include the category name among your search terms. For example, to limit your search to those discussions that have been categorized into the First-time homebuyer credit category, use "Category:First-time homebuyer credit" (including the quotes) as one of your search terms. Be sure to add at least one other search term if you’re using the yellow search box (as opposed to advance search), or you’ll be sent directly to the category page when you click Go.

Excluding discussions where the question got no responses: Include ForumReplyPost (all one word) in your search terms. This will remove discussions from the content match if they never got responses; it will also eliminate all title matches. However, be aware that those excluded discussions might actually be helpful in some cases - e.g., the opening post itself may well include information that's on point (e.g., cites, research path pursued, form numbers), plus you might get learn how to frame your question in a way that's more likely to get responses.

Excluding consumer forum discussions: Include -"Consumer Questions" in your search terms, with the minus and the quotes. The minus sign indicates that anything with the term "consumer questions" should be excluded. Some consumer questions may still be included in the "title match" section at the top of the search results - they're only excluded from the main "content match" search results listing. (Once you've opened a discussion, you can determine what forum it's on by looking at the top of the page. You'll see "Discussion Forum Index-->" followed by the forum name.)

Synonyms: Be sure to search for synonyms (and typos), if your first search comes up short. Synonym list (pending):

  • Salary, wages, compensation, payroll
  • Escrow, deposit, earnest money
  • S-Corp, S Corp, S Corporation
  • Rent, lease
  • Sale, disposition
  • CRUT, Charitable Remainder Unitrust, Charitable Remainder Trust, CRT
  • First-time homebuyer credit, First time home buyer, 1st time home buyer, "HR 3221", "HR 1"
  • 1099-C, 1099C, Cancellation of Indebtedness, COD income, Form 982
  • 1099-A, 1099A, "1099 A", Foreclosure, Abandonment of Property
  • “Statutory Notice of Deficiency” “Notice of Deficiency “ “90-day letter” “audit reconsideration” (SND may work, too)
  • motorhome, "travel trailer" "motor home" "mobile home" "recreation vehicle" (note, a search for RV will likely be unsuccessful, but you could try "an RV" since then it's greater than 3 characters inside the quotes)
  • for "United Nations" also search on "World Bank" or "International Monetary Fund" or even embassy (international organizations share similar issues for both US citizens and for non-residents)
  • “luxury car limits” “luxury vehicles” “limitations on depreciation deductions” "Rev. Proc. 2009-24"
  • pilot, "flight crew" "airline employee" (try pilot even if your client is a different crew member)
  • "W-2" may result in a search error/no discussions found; use "Form W-2" or payroll, or a box number, instead
  • TD F 90-22.1 (will not work in a search), use FBAR, "foreign bank account reporting" or "voluntary disclosure"
  • "travel expenses" or "business travel" - also consider "temporary work assignment" or ["temporary work" "travel expenses"]. Possibly "temporary consulting jobs" or [temporary "consulting jobs"] and, if applicable, "no tax home" and itinerant. Also see Publication 463.
  • "personal residence trust" - also try QPRT
  • "self-employed health insurance" - try SEHI, "self employed" health (with health and/or insurance outside the brackets), and "SE health"
  • "truck driver" - also try "hauler" "over the road" "trucker" "truck drivers" and OTR; also transportation.
  • "employee leasing" "leased employees" PEO "professional employer organization" "employee staffing" [leased officer salaries]
  • "land contract" - also try "all inclusive deed of trust" "wrap around mortgage" and "wrap-around mortgage"

(more synonym examples to come)

Consider acronyms and abbreviations: Acronyms and Abbreviations

Using another Search Engine

If you are familiar with GOOGLE, YAHOO, BING, and the like, you could use one of these search engines to find something on TaxAlmanac by including "TaxAlmanac" in your search. For example, try Googling this: TaxAlmanac dead kittens . Google should have found each discussion here on TaxAlmanac containing the words 'dead' and 'kittens'.

Most search engines also allow you to specify a particular website you want to search, i.e., include host:TaxAlmanac.org or host:irs.gov, to limit extraneous matches. Some search engines vary on the word that precedes the colon, but each has this functionality available.

Hey, everybody – please add more hints and tips here!!!

(more hints and tips to come)

What to do if you’ve searched, found a relevant discussion, and have a follow-up question

Two choices:

1. Ask a New question, but in your question, put a link – or at least a reference (copy and paste the discussion title) – to the old discussion, and then indicate what your follow-up question is, or,

2. Post your question at the end of that discussion. This is not recommended if the discussion was long, rambling, more than a year old, or contentious. Also, if you're a tax pro, but the old discussion was on the consumer forum (you can see that at the top of the page, right after "Discussion Forum Index-->"), you will need to start a new discussion if you want it to be on the main tax questions forum, where more people will see it.

Why you should search before you ask a question

There is a world of amazingly useful info that already exists on TaxAlmanac (articles, discussion archives, code, regs, etc.), and while we each have refinements we’d like to see in the search engine, it’s pretty darn good as it is, and extremely easy to use.

As a bonus, reviewing several old discussions on a topic gives you a chance to see who tends to provide accurate responses and who tends to get corrected a lot (the participants on this site tend to provide high-quality responses in the aggregate, but there are individual variations to both extremes, as you might expect), and also provides you with more depth on the topic in general, which can be particularly useful on facts and circumstances types of questions.

Besides, if you don’t use the search, somebody’ll probably send you there anyway, and they may not be all that polite about it. The discussion forums shouldn't be treated like a research service that exists just for you; this a community where people are helping each other. The better prepared you are to start out with, the better the results you're going to get from the site.

Discussion:Help with Yellow Box Search Terms You can get help with this link.

So where's the search box again?

It's the yellow box on the left of the screen - up toward the top of the page. Or, you can use this one:

Here's one user's comment on the search box: "I used the search box yesterday quite successfully...and was shocked at what I found. The best answer was...get ready....MINE! So it was like me talking into the future to myself. Weird. But it was still the right answer. I need one of these to capture the rest of my life."
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