Aug 02 2012
As we learn WestlawNext, questions arise as to whether helpful tricks that worked in classic Westlaw still work in WestlawNext. The good news is that for field searching, the answer is yes.
What is field searching? Field searching allows you to search specific parts of a document, like title, author, or judge, for a term. It also searches the metadata assigned to the document for particular information specified by the researcher. One of my favorite field searches is Words and Phrases. This search allows you to search cases for instances where a word or phrase has been defined by the court. Below is a picture showing where you would’ve gone to do a field search on Westlaw.com:
You might ask, if WestlawNext has relevancy rankings, why do I need field searching? Field searching is a more narrow approach that you can use when you know a concrete fact about what you’re looking for (i.e. “I want an opinion authored by Judge X.”). Field searching is helpful when you know what you want more specifically than the algorithm. Also, field searching can help you specify a search that might be difficult to express with keywords. Going back to Words and Phrases, you want instances where the court has defined a term (ex. “constructive trust”). If you had to do a keyword search, you could search for “constructive trust,” but that would provide results for every time the term appears, not just where it is defined. You could try adding defin! to pick up definition or defined, but a court is not always going to write, “Constructive trust is defined as….” so you might miss important definitions if you limit the results this way.
Ok, I get it, field searching is important. How do I construct a field search on WestlawNext? If you want to search only for the title, that can be entered in the appropriate box on the Advanced Search page. Other fields are a little more tricky. First, you have to type strict: to tell the computer you want to conduct a strict search and bypass the WestlawNext algorithm. Then you need to enter the abbreviation for the field you want to search (I have provided a table of abbreviations at the bottom of this post). Immediately following the abbreviation, enter your term(s) in parentheses. Our example searching Words & Phrases for constructive trust would look like this:
Although field searching still works in WestlawNext, it is not well advertised, so there was some concern that the West editors might not be tagging cases and other documents with the relevant field information anymore. However, if you conduct this search, you will see that there are cases from the last couple of months in the results, so field searching is still a great way to obtain tailored results that are also recent. If you have any questions about field searching or using WestlawNext efficiently, please don’t hesitate to contact any of the reference librarians. Below is the chart with the field abbreviations:
|Prelim and Caption||PR,CA|
|Synopsis and Digest||SY,DI|
No responses yet