Keep in mind the following tips and techniques when crafting your query. Again, each database handles the specifics of how to do a task differently, but they all contain variations on the following:
Eliminate "stop words" from your search terms:
Allow for word variations:
After identifying relevant terms and modifying them to accommodate variations, you now need to place the terms in a logical relationship to one another. The lists below explain connectors in use in most databases. Note that there are advanced connectors in each database that are not listed below that may be useful in specialized situations. Consult the database's documentation for more details.
The "order of processing" is part of the logic Westlaw and Lexis apply when running your search. You know how you want your search to be interpreted by the system but you must structure your search so the search system can carry out your intent.
The examples in this section demonstrate how connector use and search structure can greatly effect your search results. When preparing a search it is a good idea to think through the order of processing to ensure your search will be processed the way you intend. Otherwise you risk wasting time and money on a search that does not give you the results you are seeking.
In a terms and connectors search (see boxes above), Westlaw and Lexis will process your connectors in the following order:
Connectors are processed in sets. The system looks at the term (or the set, if a search has already been run) that is before the connector and the term or set after the connector. It then finds documents meeting those criteria to create a (new) set.
If all connectors are numerical but the number differs (e.g., /5, /10, /25, etc.) the connectors will be processed from lowest number to highest number.
Sample Search 1: stray /30 cat /5 adopt!
cat /5 adopt! = Set 1
stray /30 [Set 1] = Set 2
Changing the connectors, even when using the same terms, can result in a different set of documents.
Sample Search 2: stray /5 cat /30 adopt!
stray / 5 cat = Set 1
[Set 1] /30 adopt! = Set 2
The results in Sample Search 1 emphasize adopted cats (because the words are in closer proximity) with less emphasis on the concept of "stray." The results in Sample Search 2 emphasize stray cats (again, because these words are searched for with closer proximity) with less emphasis on the concept of adoption.
If all the connectors in a search are grammatical (/S or /P) the /S (sentence) connectors will be processed before the /P connectors.
Sample Search 3: liab! /P employ! /S scope
employ! /s scope = Set 1
liab! /P [Set 1] = Set 2
If the connectors in a search are a combination of numerical and grammatical, then numerical connectors are processed first (lowest to highest) followed by grammatical connectors in the order /S before /P.
Sample Search 4: assault /50 deadly /S weapon /P broken /2 bottle or knife
bottle or knife = Set 1
broken /2 [Set 1] = Set 2
assault /50 deadly = Set 3
[Set 3] /S weapon = Set 4
[Set 4] /P [Set 2] = Set 5 (final result)
There are times you will want to change the default order of processing to achieve your research goals. You can use parentheses to force the system to group certain terms and connectors together. Both Lexis and Westlaw will look at what is enclosed in parentheses and process that portion of the search first before processing the rest of the search string.
If a search contains parentheses, the contents of parentheses are processed first. If the search contains multiple sets of parentheses, the parentheses are processed from left to right. The order of processing is completed within each set of parentheses before moving on to the next set of parentheses or to any connectors outside the parentheses.
Sample Search 5: assault /50 deadly /15 weapon /150 broken /2 bottle or knife
bottle or knife = Set 1
broken /2 [Set 1] = Set 2
deadly /15 weapon = Set 3
assault /50 [Set 3] = Set 4
[Set 4] /150 [Set 2] = Set 5 (end result)
The above search will retrieve documents dealing with assault with a deadly weapon where the weapon involved is a broken knife or a broken bottle. More likely the desired result was documents dealing with assault with a deadly weapon where the weapon involved is a knife or a broken bottle.
Sample Search 6: assault /50 (deadly /15 weapon) /150 (broken /2 bottle) or knife
deadly /15 weapon = Set 1
broken /2 bottle = Set 2
[Set 2] or knife = Set 3
assault /50 [Set 1] = Set 4
[Set 4] /P [Set 3] = Set 5 (final result)
This search will find documents involving the use of a broken bottle or of a knife.
The Search Within Results feature allows you to run a search within an already determined set of documents. It is available in most databases in both Westlaw and Lexis and requires the use of Terms and Connectors searching.
Your initial search may have resulted in a very large set of documents related to your research goal. Rather than attempting to read through potentially thousands of documents, Search Within Results lets you create a new search containing additional terms, connectors, and/or fields or segments and run it against your document set. This is the point in the online research process where looking for similar factual situations can be helpful. You can also search for documents within the set that only meet a single criterion.
Sample Search 7: Using the All Federal Cases database, you have run the following search:
product or strict /3 liab! /P vehicle or car or auto! or truck
This search returned a substantial number of documents. Using Search Within Results, you can limit your results further to only those cases where General Motors is a named party. (The exact syntax for entering GM as the named party varies by database).
Once you have your GM search results, you could then search within that set of results for additional criteria (for example, cases involving brakes).
When using Search Within Results you can always cancel or exit out of the more specific search. This allows you to go back to view documents from the original result list or to go back to the original result list so you can create a new Search Within Results search.
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