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Legal Research and Writing - Spring 2020

Phrase Searching

Phrase searching is often essential when you are looking for materials that discuss a topic that is always described using a specific phrase.  Examples include "domestic violence", "criminal procedure", etc., etc.  

Phrase searching is very easy in all the major platforms.  Simply use quotation marks around the phrase.  Remember that if you are looking for a topic that is described using various terms then phrase searching may exclude relevant materials.  

Proximity Indicators

Proximity indicators are used in all the major platforms as a way to increase precision.  It has an advantage over Boolean logic in that you can create a search where relevant terms must appear in a document but they have to be close to each other.  This can be an effective way to increase relevancy.  

The proximity indicators available on Westlaw and Lexis include:

  • /s - Terms must appear within the same sentence of each other.
  • /p - Terms must appear in the same paragraph.
  • /5 - Terms must appear within a specified number of words from each other.  You can use 1-10 for this (i.e, /1, /10).

Remember that will proximity indicators the order does not matter.  The terms can appear in any order as long as they are within the specified proximity to each other.


Truncation is a search tool to broaden your search to include various word endings.  In Westlaw and Lexis, the truncator symbol is the exclamation point (!).  

For example:

Adv: crim!

This search query will catch crime, criminal, criminality, etc.


Wildcards are very similar to truncation but they will only catch one letter of a word.

For example:

Adv: wom*n

This search query will catch both woman and women.