As mentioned above, there are two ways to search on sophisticated legal research systems such as Westlaw and Lexis – natural language searching and terms and connectors searching.
Formulating a terms and connectors (aka advanced or Boolean) search is basically a two-step process:
The quality of your search, and therefore your results, depends on your skill in both steps!
|Click here for a video about choosing useful keywords.|
Terms and connectors searching involves using keywords (aka words or phrases) to search for concepts. In this context, a concept is a thing, person, place, cause of action, defense, idea, etc. etc. which can be described using a variety of different words or phrases.
Steps to Identify Useful Keywords
Basically, you just ask yourself, what are the different words/phrases that a JUDGE might use when writing an opinion, a LEGISLATOR might use when writing a law, or an AGENCY might use when writing a regulation.
There are acronyms such as TRAPP to help you think of concepts/keywords of legal or factual significance from your issue/fact pattern.
T - Things involved
R - Relief sought
A - Causes of Action or Defenses
P - Person or Parties involved
P - Places
The following are examples of when it is useful to use terms and connectors searching.
|Click here to watch a video about the uses of terms and connectors searching. (Note: Long! Speed it up...)|
Trying to Find All Documents on a Legal Issue Example
You are interested in cases involving a police dog biting a person who was just standing around minding her own business. If, after running a natural language search, you are not sure you found all the relevant cases, you can try a terms and connectors search.
Natural language search example:
police dog bit bystander
Terms and connector search example:
police OR officer OR sheriff OR drug OR agent OR "law enforcement" OR unit /45 dog OR canine OR doberman OR shepherd /35 bit! OR attack! OR injur! OR kill! OR maim! /35 bystander OR innocent
Search Within Results Example
You ran the following natural language search: police dog bit bystander fleeing suspect. If you use the Search within results field to search within your natural language results, the search is automatically a terms and connectors search.
Find Every Occurrence of a Terms in a Database Example
You want to make sure that you are familiar with every Arizona law about dogs, so you run the following search to retrieve the word dog (or dogs, dog's, or dogs') anywhere in the text of the Arizona Revised Statutes.
Natural language searching works really well these days! So, what is the purpose of terms and connectors searching (and OTHER case/statute finding methods)?
|Click here to watch a video about the mechanics of terms and connectors searching. (Note: Long! Speed it up...)|
The OR connector is used to retrieve documents in a database that contain at least one of the specified terms.
dog OR canine = all documents with dog or canine
dog OR canine OR shepherd = all documents with dog or canine or shepherd
On Westlaw, a space between terms operates as an OR. You can use the actual word OR too.
officer police = officer or police
officer OR police = officer or police
On Westlaw, a phrase is enclosed in quotation marks. (Note: Remember that a space between words is interpreted as an OR.)
"state trooper" = state trooper
state trooper = state or trooper
You can use phrase searching to search for terms of art, proper names, or adjacent terms you would normally expect to occur as a phrase.
"University of Arizona"
"res ipsa loquitur"
On Westlaw, the singular form of a word retrieves the singular, plural, and singular/plural possessive forms of a word.
dog = dog, dogs, dog's, dogs'
The plural form of a word retrieves only the plural and the plural possessive forms.
dogs = dogs, dogs'
Note: Make it a habit to use the singular form of words so you won't exclude any possibly relevant documents.
On Westlaw, use the exclamation point (!) to truncate your terms (usually verbs) so you will retrieve the different forms of a word.
bit! = bite, bites, biting, bit, bitten, b*tch, etc.
The AND connector is used to retrieve documents in a database that contain ALL the specified terms.
On Westlaw, you can use AND or &.
dog AND canine = all documents with dog and canine
dog AND canine AND "german shepherd" = all documents with dog and canine and german shepherd
officer OR police OR sheriff AND dog = all documents with officer or police or sheriff that also contain dog
Proximity connectors are used to specify how close together terms must appear in a document to be retrieved by a search. On Westlaw, you can use /S, /P, and /# (any number between 1 and 255).
/# police /3 dog = documents with police within three words of dog
/# police /15 dog = documents with police within fifteen words of dog
/S police /S dog = documents with police within the same sentence as dog
/P police /P dog = documents with police within the same paragraph as dog
The NOT connector is used at the END of a search to retrieve all documents in a database that do not contain specified terms/phrases.
On Westlaw, you can use BUT NOT or %.
police /S dog = documents with police within a sentence of dog
police /S dog BUT NOT bit! = documents with police within a sentence of dog that also do not contain bit!/bite/bites/biting/bitten
Remember that natural language searching is the default search method for Westlaw. If you type in a string of terms or phrases, or some terms and phrases separated by ANDs or ORs, the system automatically runs a natural language search.
Natural Language Search Examples
To let Westlaw know you want to run a terms and connectors search, you have to do one of the following:
Terms and Connectors Search Examples
Although it is possible to formulate elaborate searches, most research needs are met by relatively simple searches.
Many searches follow the pattern of: keyword /S keyword /S keyword
Just try to keep a few things in mind as you formulate simple searches.
After thinking of some likely keywords:
If your initial search doesn't work, try some alternative terms for your keywords.