This guide covers various strategies for searching legal research databases, specifically Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw, although some strategies can be applied to other databases, as well.
All three databases have as their default setting a method known as "natural language" or algorithmic searching, which is similar to Google or other search engines where an algorithm is used to parse your search terms and deliver a set of results in relevance order.
Natural language or algorithmic searching can be very effective, but you are reliant on an algorithm where you do not know exactly how the database is being searched (often referred to as the "black box" problem). Relying too heavily on algorithmic searching can be an inefficient use of time and retrieve a frustrating amount of irrelevant results.
This guide covers other, more controlled ways to search these databases, using boolean logic or "terms and connectors" searching.
The first step in any research process is generating good search terms. To generate good search terms, follow these simple steps:
This is an ongoing process. As you begin to perform searches and review results, new search terms will occur to you. You may find it helpful to keep a written list that you can add to throughout your search process.
Don't hesitate to ask a law librarian if you would like help generating strong search terms.
When you formulate your search, also decide if you need to use a wild card (*) or a root expander (!) in order to expand your search options. Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw all allow wild card and root expander searching.
Wild card: use asterisk: *
dr*nk finds drink, drank, drunk
Truncation: use exclamation point: !
crim! finds crime, criminal