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How can I use the search web part to look through a custom list and display the relevant topics from that list to the user?

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You can create a scope for that list and add Managed Property for the columns you want to search.

Check the similar question here : search programatically

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how is it that i can create a new scope? – Slossnite Apr 12 '12 at 13:40
Are lists automatically searchable with a webpart using site:urlofsite appended to the query put in...example, in a list i created i have setup a Q and A format and I have a site page with a search box webpart on it with the appended query string with the site being the list but i still get no results, is there something else i can do? – Slossnite Apr 12 '12 at 15:36

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