Research Guides

TMLL Research Guide - Chapter 2


Terms and connectors searching

Select terms & connectors searching when you are familiar with the topic and its language/jargon and/or when you want a comprehensive search (e.g., case research).

Define issues

Analyze your facts, that is, determine the legal issues raised by your problem.

Select search terms

  • Identify key terms, along with alternative forms, synonyms, antonyms, and related concepts;
  • Make sure all terms are spelled correctly;
  • Truncate terms appropriately with the !  or * symbol to pick up variations in endings; 
  • On Westlaw, place a phrase in quotes; on Lexis, simply type the phrase;
  • If you need help, use a legal dictionary or the online thesaurus.

Relate terms logically and order connectors properly

Use the logical connectors to arrange your terms into ideas and concepts. The most commonly used connectors are essentially the same on Lexis and Westlaw and include, in order of processing:  or; /n; /s; /p; and; and not/but not.  In Bloomberg Law, it is very similar: or; n/; s/; p/; AND; and NOT.

If in doubt about order of processing, use parentheses to vary the prescribed order of processing to make sure your search retrieves the documents you intend.  Terms enclosed in parentheses are searched first.

Limit your search to a field/segment and use date restrictions when appropriate

Search efficiency may be greatly improved by limiting your searches to particular segments or fields of the documents in the source/database you are searching, or by specifying a date or time period for your search result.

Run your search and evaluate your results

Browse the documents you have retrieved by looking for highlighted search terms in the text of the documents.  Terms are automatically highlighted on Westlaw and one may move easily to points in documents at which search terms appear by clicking on the “Term” arrows at the bottom of the document screen.  Use the KWIC, or Key Word in Context, option on Lexis to view search terms within documents.

Use locate (Westlaw) or focus (Lexis) to look for specified terms within your search result

This can include terms that were not part of the query you entered.

Natural language searching

Select natural language searching when you are beginning a research project and are not yet familiar with the vocabulary, or when you need only a sampling of relevant documents.  For example, natural language searching can be useful in locating secondary source materials that provide background on the subject of your research.

Define your issues

Analyze your facts.  Run a natural language search first if unsure what search terms would create a successful terms and connectors search.

Decide how to express your search

You can express your natural language search as a question or simply as a string of words related to your legal concepts.

  • Natural language automatically searches alternative forms of words you have included as part of your search.
  • In natural language searching on both Lexis Advance and WestlawNext many, but not all phrases will be automatically recognized and searched.  You may use the advanced search to put phrases in quotes to make sure they are searched as phrases.
  • Unlike in terms and connectors searching, words and phrases included in a natural language search do not have to appear in every document retrieved.  Both Lexis and Westlaw allow the researcher to make particular words and phrases mandatory in a natural language search through the advanced search function.

Select your source or database

You must have already determined the controlling jurisdiction.  Usually it is most efficient to begin searching in the smallest database containing mandatory authorities.

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