How to Use AO3 Filters Like a Pro

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Archive of our Own (AO3) is one of the most commonly used sites when looking for fanfiction. However, there are still some tricks and shortcuts that not everyone might know of. Either if you’re new to AO3 or an experienced user, we have gathered some tricks that might help you get more accurate results when browsing so that you can become an AO3 pro.


‘Other Tags’ vs ‘Search Within Results’

So what’s the difference between ‘Other Tags‘ and ‘Search Within Results‘, you ask?

For starters, as you probably know, the tags that appear in ‘Additional Tags’ are the most used and common tags. The field ‘Other tags’ allows you to add other less popular, yet still canonical tags. This field includes an auto-complete function to help you get the best results. Also, if you choose a tag from the Top 10 tags and then add another in the ‘Other Tags’, only works including those tags will appear. However, notice that we are talking about canonical versions of the tags here. So no, you can’t search for a tag saying “fluff chapter because you probably need it after the finale”. And if you write something that hasn’t come up as a suggestion, the searching will just work as a text-match, which might be inaccurate in some cases.

On the other hand, the ‘Search Within Result’ field is a better option when searching for specific tags or words that might not be canonical and might not appear in the auto-complete of ‘Other Tags’. Think of ‘Search Within Result’ as the last resource when there’s something you really want to find but can’t find elsewhere. Here are some of the shortcuts that AO3 shows to use this feature:

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Filter Out Content that You Don’t Want to See

Excluding tags would be like using Tumblr Savior on Tumblr. If there’s a particular ship that you don’t like, or some triggering content that you don’t want to see, excluding tags can be your salvation.

Let’s just say you want to browse for MARVEL fics but you are underage or don’t want to see certain sexual content, you can go to ‘Other Tags’ and write ‘-smut’:

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The search result will get rid of any results including ‘smut’ in its tags. In case someone tagged their sexual content differently, you can try adding more combinations like ‘-sexual content’, ‘-sex’, ‘-porn’, ‘-PWP’ and so on. This also works for any other things you might want to avoid like certain Fandoms, Characters or Authors.

(Tumblr user made a detailed explanation on this HERE).

Different Ways to Find Crossovers

There are different ways of searching for crossovers:

  • Use the ‘Fandom’s tag. Search for one of the fandoms you want in the crossover. Inside the ‘Top 10 Tags’, open ‘Fandom’. Fandoms appearing there are the fandoms that have most crossovers with the first work you have searched. For example, if you search ‘Attack on Titan‘, under ‘Fandoms’ you will find ‘Harry Potter‘ (there’s a Harry Potter AU for everything!), ‘Free!‘, ‘Tokyo Ghoul‘ or ‘Naruto‘, among others. You can add more than one, but keep in mind that, the more fandoms you add, the less likely it will be to find accurate results.
  • Go straight to the ‘Crossover’ tag. This tag is pretty common so you will find it under the Additional Tags Category. Once you’re in, you can decide to sort the results by Date, Hits Word Count… etc. This is a rather more indirect way to search for crossovers unless your fandom is very popular, as the fandoms that come up in the ‘Fandom’ tags are often the usual popular ones: Supernatural, Harry Potter, Sherlock… Say you want a Harry Potter AU for Hannibal. You can select the Harry Potter fandom, and then write ‘Hannibal‘ on the ‘Other Tags’ or ‘Search Within Results’.
  • Check out crossover collections. Once again, if the fandom you are looking for is quite popular, you might want to try looking for a collection dedicated to crossovers. For that, click on Browse > Collections and write ‘Crossover’ under ‘Filter by Title or Author’. You can also try the auto-complete function, which will give you options where crossover is not in the main title.

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As a last resource, you can try googling “site:archiveofourown.org crossover”.

Looking for One-Shots?

There’s a checkbox to browse for Complete or Works in Progress fics, but so far, there’s not an option to select one-shots or multichapter fics. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, though!

If you don’t have much time and you are just looking for one-shots, write ‘expected_number_of_chapters:1″ on the “Search Within Results”. On the contrary, if you want to indulge in a multi-chapter fic, write ‘-expected_number_of_chapters:1″. Easy peasy!


Do you have any other AO3 tricks that you have discovered over time? Share them with us in the comments below!
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About Author

24-year-old TV journalist. I especialize in fangirling over TV shows and anime. Currently fighting for fan studies to be recognized as a valid academic field.

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