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Developing a Search
(with Terms and Connectors)
Related Topics
Click a link below for information about searching using terms and connectors. Examples are included.

Developing a Search
Search Terms: Guidelines
Proper Names
Search Connectors and Commands
Connector Order and Priority
Wildcard Characters
Duplicate Options
Date Restrictions
Document Section Searching
      Descriptions of Common Sections

Note: On some Search forms, you may also click the Browse tab to view a specific source's table of contents, if available. Once you have found a more targeted area within the Browse tab, you may select that area only, return to the Search form and search only on that specified area. For more information, see Browsing a Source.

Developing a Search

If you're new to developing searches, the following steps will help you get started:

  1. Identify the topic.
    Determine the area that you want to research. For example, information about efforts in the fast food industry to use recyclable packaging.

  2. Select your Source.
    For a topic like recycling in the fast food industry, you might want to begin your search in a news source. The "News, All (English, Full Text)" group source contains hundreds of full-text business, financial, trade, and news publications.

  3. Choose your search terms.
    The terms should reflect ideas essential to your research topic. Include alternative terms, and try to avoid terms that are too general. For example, to find articles about efforts in the fast food industry to use recyclable packaging, you might use these terms and phrases:

    recycle   package   container   fast food

    Note:  Searching is not case-sensitive.

  4. Use truncation and wildcards to include word variations.
    The truncation (!) and wildcard (*) characters let you easily combine or eliminate search terms, making your search simpler.

    !  Finds a root word plus all the terms made by adding letters to the end of it.

    recycl!  finds "recycle," "recycling" and "recyclable."

    Note:  Terms that work best with ! are those that are unique in their truncated form. For example, if you search for fir! (thinking that you want to find "fired," "firing," or "fires"), your results will also include "first," "firm," and so on.

    *  Holds one space for a character at any point in a word:

    bernst**n  finds the "ei" and the "ie" spelling of the name.

  5. Link the search terms using connectors.
    Connectors such as OR, AND, W/N, and so on define relationships between your search terms. For example,

    recycl! W/25 fast food W/10 container OR package

    finds documents where either "container" or "package" is within 10 words of "fast food," and "fast food" is within 25 words of "recycle" (or its variants).

    To see the list of all connectors and information about how to use them, click connectors or click the More Connectors link here or on a search form.

  6. Specify date restrictions.
    Use date restrictions to narrow your search to documents published on a specific day or within a date range you specify.


Terms are the basic units of a search. A term is a single character or group of characters, alphabetic or numeric, with a space on either side.



one searchable term


one searchable term

§ 1988

two searchable terms

A hyphen is treated as a space, so a hyphenated term is seen as two terms.



one term


two terms

pre trial

two terms

A period is treated like a space except when:

  • The period is preceded and followed by a number.

    Example: 99.9 is one term

  • The period is preceded by a space and followed by a number.

    Example: .999 is one term

  • The period is preceded by only one alphabetic character and followed (with no spaces in the sequence) by any number of single letters each of which is followed by a period.

    Example: F.B.I. is one term, while F. B. I. is three terms (because of the spaces after the periods)

Search Terms: Guidelines

  • Choose search terms that are specific or closely related to the topic of interest.

    Example: medical malpractice OR physician! negligence

  • Choose terms you might use when discussing the topic with a colleague, including current jargon or buzzwords.

    Example: Freedom of Information Act OR FOIA

  • The terms should reflect ideas essential to your research topic, such as treatments, cures, or side-effects.

  • Include alternative terms and abbreviations.

    Example: mri OR magnetic resonance imaging

  • Avoid terms that are too general, such as "illness" or "behavior."

Proper Names

Because of the many ways in which a proper name can be expressed, use the following search pattern to obtain a comprehensive result:

(first name OR first initial W/3 last name)

To find documents referring to Mary Jones, use this search:

(Mary OR M W/3 Jones)

Note: This method ensures comprehensive results and includes variations such as Mary J. Jones, M. J. Jones, Mary Jane Jones, Jones, Mary J., and Jones, M. J.

Some names searched using this pattern will yield irrelevant references in the search results. When this happens, you may add additional search terms to decrease the likelihood of irrelevant results. For example, if Mary Jones is a CPA, you could use this search:

(Mary OR M W/3 Jones AND CPA OR C.P.A. OR accountant)

  • The order of surname and forename may differ. For example, to find documents that contain R Smith and Smith, R, use a proximity connector like W/n.

    smith W/2 r

  • The presentation of multiple initials may differ. For example:

rj smith

would find RJ Smith but not R.J. Smith (with periods) or R J Smith (with spaces). To find all possibilities, use an OR connector:

(rj OR r j OR r.j. W/3 smith)

Note: The system interprets the periods in initials as blank spaces.

  • A name may be given with or without middle initials.

  • To find articles by Raymond Smith, Raymond J. Smith and Raymond J. A. Smith use a proximity connector like W/n:

    (raymond W/3 smith)

  • To account for all the possible combinations of name presentation, we recommend a combination of techniques. To find all of the above examples, you could use:

    (smith W/3 ray! OR r)


  • Using the singular word form will retrieve the singular, plural, and possessive forms of most words. For example, city would find city, cities, city's, and cities'

  • The system will not automatically find the plural form of words that end in "us" or "is", or other irregular plural forms. For example, bonus would not find bonuses and child would not find children. Use the OR connector in these instances.

Connector Order and Priority

Connectors operate in the following order of priority:

  1. OR
  2. W/n, PRE/n, NOT W/n
  3. W/sent
  4. W/para
  5. W/SEG
  6. NOT W/SEG
  7. AND
  8. AND NOT

If you use two or more of the same connector, they operate left to right. If the "n" (number) connectors have different numbers, the smallest number is operated on first. You cannot use the W/para and W/sent connectors with a proximity connector (e.g., W/n).

Example: bankrupt! W/25 discharg! AND student OR college OR education W/5 loan

is operated on in the following manner:

  • Because OR has the highest priority, it operates first and creates a unit of student OR college OR education! .
  • W/5, the smaller of the W/n connectors, ties together the term loan and the previously formed unit of student OR college OR education! .
  • W/25 operates next and creates a unit of bankrupt! W/25 discharg! .
  • AND, with the lowest priority, operates last and links the units formed in the second and third bullets above.

Changing Connector Priority
To change the connector priority, use brackets. Connectors inside brackets have priority over, or operate before, connectors outside brackets.

Example: bankrupt! W/25 discharg! AND (student OR college OR education W/5 loan)

The search above prioritizes as: (student OR college OR education W/5 loan) AND (bankrupt! W/25 discharg!)

Wildcard Characters

Using truncation (!) and wildcard (*) characters lets you easily combine or eliminate search terms, making your search simpler.

  • Use an exclamation mark (!) to truncate a word to find all the words made by adding letters to the end of it. For example, acqui! would find variations on the term acquire such as acquires, acquired, acquiring, and acquisition.

    CAUTION:  Use ! only on unique roots; fir! will find fired, firing, and fires, but will also find first, which you may not want.

  • Use an asterisk (*) as a "wildcard" to replace a character anywhere in a word, except the first character. Use one asterisk for each character you want to replace.

    wom*n would find woman and women
    bernst**n would find bernstein and bernstien

    Use the asterisk to hold a space for variations in spelling at any point in a word.

    Example: bernst**n would find both the ei and the ie spelling of the name

    If you use asterisks at the end of a word, they do not all have to be filled, but may find up to the specified number of characters.

    Example: transplant** would find transplant, transplanted, transplanter

    Note:  transplant** does not find transplantation or transplanting because only two wildcard characters are used. To find all the variations of transplant, use the ! wildcard character instead of the asterisk.

You cannot use a wildcard character (*) at the beginning of a search word.

Duplicate Options

(Not available for all search types.) Duplicate options lets you choose whether or not you want to use similarity analysis to process your search results. Similarity analysis detects similar documents in your search results and groups them together. For more information about duplicate options, see What are duplicate options?

Date Restrictions

Sometimes you need to limit your searches to a particular time frame. The easiest way to specify a date restriction is by using the Specify Date options on a search form. However, you may also manually enter dates in the Enter Search Terms field if documents in the source you're using contain a date section.

For example, you may want to restrict your search to find cases decided on, before, or after a particular date. Because date sections involve numbers, they are "arithmetically searchable." The most effective date format is: dd/mm/yyyy  and date sections use the arithmetic operators shown below:

=    is    equal to or is 
>    aft    greater than or after 
<    bef    less than or before 

The following are examples of date restrictions.

date = 2004 or date is 2004
date > 31 December 2004 or date aft 31 december 2004
date < 1/1/1997 or date bef 01/01/2004

Document Section Searching

To search within document sections:

  1. Click the "Show" link next to "Search Within Document Sections."

  2. Select the document section you want to search from the Section drop-down list.

  3. Enter your search term(s) in the Terms box.

  4. Click "Add to search".

  5. The syntax of your search will be correctly formulated for you.

  6. You may repeat these steps as many times as you wish. When you're ready, complete the rest of the form and click the Search button.

Entering Document Section Restrictions in the Search Terms Field

You may also restrict your search to specific document sections by typing your section search terms directly in the Enter Search Terms box. Enter the section name, then type your search terms enclosed in brackets. Complete the rest of the form and click Search.



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