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Boolean Logic/Using Terms and Connectors when Searching Online for Legal Documents.

A Review by Mark Kloempken & Tove Klovning


When you are using a subscription legal database such as WestlawNext, Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis Advance or a free database such as FDsys, there are different search strategies.

One method is known as ‘natural language' where the legal subscription database develops an algorithm that works independently of legally complete vocabulary and search commands.  In other words, the factors used in compiling the algorithm link the words you are using to the concept you are researching.  For example, after you completed writing your issue, you would enter it in the search box: what elements must be established in order to establish a common law marriage?

Even though a natural language options is available to you in most subscription legal databases ,  you may very well end up concluding that it is not an efficient use of your time.  Most subscription legal databases have developed an algorithm that works. However, this search option may also retrieve irrelevant results.

There is a second option known as boolean logic or a terms and connector search. Once you get the grasp of how to do a boolean logic/terms and connector search you may never want to go back to a natural language search option!  Terms are connected using designated symbols.  These symbols or connectors are used to define the relationship between the terms.

Here is how you do it:

When generating a search query online always keep in mind relevant terms, possible alternative terms that might be useful and also decide if you need to use a wild card (*) or a root expander (!) in order to expand your search options. The best online search queries  also add connectors to the mix. The most popular connectors are /s (within the same sentence), /p  (with in the same paragraph)  or  /n (with in a certain numbers of words). You can also search via specific segments and field.

Whenever you approach a new database always take time to explore the connectors that are made available to you. Remember your objective as a legal researcher is to locate the most relevant authoritative sources available to you for your research issue.