Nature language searching is like searching on Google and can be useful when exploring a topic completely new to you. For natural language searches, results are retrieved based on a database's algorithm. As you learn more about a topic, you will likely want to use terms and connectors searches because you can exert more control over the results. An advanced search using terms and connectors guarantees that you will retrieve the universe of cases exactly as you have specified.
For example, if you conduct an advanced search for "first sale doctrine" AND textbook! AND copyright across all federal court cases on either Westlaw or Lexis, this search will guarantee that you will retrieve all federal cases that contain (1) the exact phrase "first sale doctrine"; (2) the term "textbook" or "textbooks"; and (3) the term "copyright" in each case included in the set of results.
Natural language search examples:
Terms and connectors search examples (see below for more on what these mean):
Terminology note: Sometimes you'll see terms and connectors searches called "Boolean searches". Technically, Boolean searching just means use of AND, OR, or NOT, but it's sometimes used to refer to all the other search operators too (like the proximity operator /p). But if you're checking the search help for a database (always a good idea!) and their section on Boolean searching just mentions AND, OR, and NOT, check if they have a section with a different title that covers the other search operators.
Terms and connector search strings can look complicated (and sometimes they are!), but it's not hard to build useful searches and refine them if you follow a simple process. First, a search term brainstorm: what terms are used in your research question or fact pattern that seem significant, or what terms would you expect to show up in any case discussing this issue? Second, add possible synonyms, root expanders, and quotation marks around phrases to make sure you catch all different forms of your terms. Finally, use search operators to specify relationships between your terms. Here's how that works in practice:
You're researching whether and how making photocopies of copyrighted material for classroom use could be considered copyright infringement.
Step One: Brainstorm
Photocopies, classroom, and copyright infringement look like the key terms in this prompt.
Step Two: Synonyms, Root Expanders, and Quotation Marks
Step Three: Connect Your Terms
That's it! There are some changes we could make here - maybe instead of "copyright infringement", we search for (copyright /2 infring!), so we get results that say "infringing upon copyright" too. But you don't need to get it just right on the first try. Instead, take your best shot, and then use your results to determine how you might need to refine your search. Scroll down for some tips on doing that, and a few more useful search operators.
If your search retrieves too many results, you can narrow your search by searching for exact phrases, using AND or NOT, using proximity connectors, or using the ATLEAST function.
In the chart below, the left column contain operators for use on Lexis, while the right column contain operators for use on Westlaw. This chart can also be downloaded as a PDF at the bottom of this page.
If your search retrieves too few results, you can broaden your search by using OR or root expanders.
In the chart below, the left column contains operators for use on Lexis, while the right column contains operators for use on Westlaw. This chart can also be downloaded as a PDF at the bottom of this page.
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