Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Too Many Results? There Are Hacks for That!

Have you ever run a search and been overwhelmed by the results you got back?

Me too. Here are a couple of my favorite hacks for focusing research to limit the results to more items that are more likely to be useful. Let's suppose we want to find law review articles and news stories about congressional oversight hearings (how do they work? what's the history? when do committees subpoena witnesses?).

Hack 1: Require Term in the Title

In Westlaw's Law Reviews & Journals database, the search "congressional oversight" turns up 4,904 documents. That's far too many to deal with. Searching for "oversight" to be in the title should help focus. And it does! "congressional oversight" & ti(oversight) gets us just 125 articles. And those articles seem highly relevant. E.g.,

  • Former Sen. Carl Levin & Elise J. Bean, Defining Congressional Oversight and Measuring Its Effectiveness, 64 Wayne L. Rev. 1 (2018)
  • Michael A. Livermore, Political Parties and Presidential Oversight, 67 Ala. L. Rev. 45 (2015)

You can do the same thing in Lexis's Law Reviews and Journals database,  "congressional oversight" yields 4,474 articles. But congressional oversight & title(oversight) yields just 116.

Note that in news databases you use "headline" instead of "title: In Major Newspapers in Lexis, "congressional oversight" turns up 7,957 stories. "congressional oversight" and headline(oversight) turns up 277.

Hack 2: Require Term to Appear a Lot

In Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law, you can require that a term appears a certain number of times with the "atleast" operator. For example, in Lexis (staying with law reviews), we can search for "congressional oversight" & atleast7(subpoena) turns up 224 articles.

In Westlaw's journals, "congressional oversight" & atleast20(hearing) brings us 569 articles. Changing it to atleast40(hearing) reduces the harvest to 204 articles. And atleast75(hearing) cuts the list to 64—articles that presumable discuss hearings a lot.

In Bloomberg Law News, "congressional oversight" turns up 408 stories. But when I add and atleast5(trump), the list is down to just 26.

Try out some searches of your own.

  • Find law review articles about "wrongful convictions" or "exonerations." How does it affect your search results if you require "exonerat!" to be in the title? How about if you require it to appear 10 times?
  • Find news stories about Columbia River dams and salmon. How many have "salmon" in the headline? 

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