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Online Guide for Law Students: Search Skills

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Search Skills

Having effective search skills can help you obtain relevant results even when you are faced with an overwhelming number of search results. For instance, when searching for journal articles related to professional negligence, a simple keyword search may yield over 60,000 results, making it challenging to find the information you need.

Below are several techniques you can apply to refine your search and obtain more relevant results:

Phrase Search (" ")

A search for professional negligence without quotation marks will yield results with the individual keywords appearing separately throughout the material. 

To search for professional negligence as an exact phrase, we need to enclose the keywords in double quotation marks (" ")For instance, searching with "professional negligence" reduced the number of results from over 60,000 to around 2,500, making the search more precise:

Of course, 2,500 results may still be overwhelming. To further refine our search, we can apply advanced search to improve our search query.

Advanced Search 

Advanced Search is a robust tool that enables us to create structured search queries effectively. To begin, simply click on the Advanced Search link on the Library homepage. You will see a multi-lines search form with options to limit your search to a specific material type, language, start date, and end date:

Step 1 - Enter keywords or keyphrases on separate line for different concepts

We usually start with more than one keyword or keyphrase to conduct a thorough search. For example, if we are researching professional negligence related to real property, we can search for "professional negligence" AND "real property" as displayed in the screenshot above. This approach narrows down the search when compared to searching "professional negligence" alone, yielding approximately 100 results.

Step 2 - Include alternative keywords connected with OR

There is a chance that relevant articles may not have used the exact keywords or keyphrases chosen in Step 1. To avoid missing out pertinent articles, we can add alternative keywords and connect them with the OR operator as demonstrated below:
"professional negligence" OR "professional misconduct

AND "real property" OR "real estate"
This strategy broadens the search scope and retrieve approximately 190 results.

It is important to note that when using Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) in LibrarySearch, they must be written in uppercase letters. Otherwise, LibrarySearch will interpret them as regular keywords. 

Also, be aware that Westlaw Asia and Lexis Advance® Hong Kong use different symbols for Boolean Operators. A comparison table is available here

Next Step?
To further refine your search, explore the Filters and Other Skills section to learn more techniques.

Refine Results by Filters

After conducting a search in LibrarySearch, you can refine the results by applying filters on the sidebar. You can apply multiple filters at the same time to narrow down the results. 

Here are some commonly used filters with explanatory notes:

  • Availability
    • Full Text Online: Limit results to e-resources with entire contents. 
    • Held by Library: Limit results to print materials in the Library.
    • Peer-reviewed Journals: Limit results to articles in peer-reviewed journals.
    • Open Access: Limit results to free online materials.
  • Library: Limit results to print materials in the selected branch(es) or the main library.
  • Resource Type: Limit results to Articles, Books, Book Chapters, Dissertations, etc.
  • Language: Limit results to materials in the selected language(s).
  • Publication Date: Limit results to materials published within a specific range of years.
  • Subject: Limit results to materials in selected subject areas(s).

More Skills

To learn more skills like truncation (*) and wildcard (?), please visit the Advanced Search Tab on the Help page of LibrarySearch.

Boolean Operators with Examples

Click to enlarge:

Frequently Used Connectors

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