The search algorithms used by the big legal research databases have gotten quite good at interpreting undifferentiated strings of search words (e.g., battery spit bodily fluid face) and even searches formulated as questions (e.g., does spitting in a person’s face constitute battery). But we do not know much about the search algorithms and how they choose the results they show and don’t show. Advanced search syntax lets you have more control over how your search terms are interpreted. The most useful advanced search syntax for Lexis and Westlaw are explained below.
Important: In Westlaw, if you want it to use advanced search syntax, type adv: at the beginning of your search string, e.g., adv: puppy or kitten.
And: puppy and kitten = results must have both terms in them > narrower set of results
Or: puppy or kitten = results can have either term or both terms in them > broader set of results
Parentheses are used to indicate order of operations: “Do what is inside the parentheses before you do what is outside.”
Put an exclamation point at the end of a word root to find variations.
The proximity connectors are used to indicate that you want two words or phrases a certain distance from each other.
The connectors must go BETWEEN the words or phrases
Quotation marks are used to indicate that you want to search for the exact phrase.
* in Westlaw, ? in Lexis . To search for both adviser and advisor:
The universal character cannot be first letter, and do not use within quotation marks.
Both Lexis and Westlaw have advanced search screens that can help you build a precise search if you aren’t sure which connectors to use. These screens also give you the ability to specify other information like a judge’s name, a date, a party, etc.