If you are conducting legal research the ability to filter and generate relevant results is very important. In my experience of working in a technical support environment, search queries are surprisingly more common than you may think. Of course there are lots of ways to conduct searches and there isn’t a perfect method across the board. However, you can make things more streamlined by adhering to a few tips. Whether you are looking to increase or decrease results, one of the best ways is by using search operators. They are effectively terms that act as parameters for a search. They can be bespoke for each online service but can also be universal – the most popular of which are Boolean operators (also known as Connectors or Logical Operators). They originate from Boolean algebra (established by George Boole in the nineteenth century).
The potential combinations that Boolean operators can produce are endless. Suffice to say, there are many other types of search operators, which will vary per online service. The underlying concept behind search operators is the same; but pre-determined shortcuts may differ. A good example would be to compare Justis’s search operators (and shortcuts) in relation to Google’s search operators. For instance, both are able to facilitate inverted commas to search for an exact word or phrase. But Justis requires NOT to be used if you want a word excluded from your search, whereas Google requires you to put a dash in front of the word. In addition, other online legal research platforms have their own versions of search operators such as LexisNexis’s Boolean Searching or Westlaw’s Terms and Connectors Searches.
With the above in mind, the use of search operators is not only a smart tactic for precise results but they can also make searching easy. It shouldn’t take too long to learn the most basic ones for each online service that you use. They are definitely worth applying if you are regularly searching on a specific online service. However, you shouldn’t solely rely on them to the point that you ignore in-built filtering mechanisms (i.e. advanced auto-search settings); rather they should be complemented with them. Therefore, search operators can be beneficial to your searches and should be considered a valuable aid when conducting online legal research.