Today, I want to discuss search terms. In my position, as a civil litigation paralegal, I spend a lot of time searching for all sorts of information on people, companies, issues, news stories. You name it, I’ve probably searched for it.
While each of these types of searches requires their own set of skills, for the most part assembling the terms for the search is fairly standard.
Now, we’ve all taken the class, watched a webinar, or listened to a software developer’s presentation about assembling search terms, using connectors, using each and every one of those “Advanced Search” features. However, I find that so often the complicated searches only really work if you already know what you’re looking for. If, for instance, you know there is an email sent on a specific date, from a specific person, with a particular re: line, then these search terms and connectors can be invaluable timesavers. But for the general or preliminary searches, advanced searches can screen out relevant information resulting in less productive “hits.”
I find the fewer search terms I use, the better. Most of the time when using one or two words, instead of a whole math equation of connectors and unique identifiers, I find information that broadens my understanding of the case. More importantly, it is not uncommon for me to find information that is relevant and pertinent that would have been screened out by a narrower search.
So, by all means, learn how to use connectors, explore the advanced search options, but don’t feel tied to them. Remember that vague and broad have the potential to be exponentially more valuable than specific and narrow. Even if the broader search is too broad, reviewing a few of the results can give you useful terms to use to narrow down the search.