Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Research Quick Tip: Westlaw Words and Phrases

Our Westlaw rep is on campus this week training new students on Westlaw search basics.  The week's focus on Westlaw gives me the perfect opportunity to share one of my favorite advanced search techniques: Westlaw's Words and Phrases field search.

The Words and Phrases field identifies definitions to legal terms.  Westlaw's editors take legal terms and locate cases and statutes that define the terms.  So a Words and Phrases field search is a way to find how the courts in a jurisdiction define a term.  For example, if I want to know what constitutes defamation in Massachusetts, I can search Massachusetts cases for "defamation" using the Words and Phrases field, and Westlaw will return only cases that define defamation. A keyword search for defamation will return those cases as well, but it will also return many other cases.  A keyword search for defamation returns more than 1700 Massachusetts cases.  A Words and Phrases field search for defamation returns 13 Massachusetts cases, and the first result offers this definition of defamation: "Defamation is the intentional or reckless publication, without privilege to do so, of a false statement of fact which causes damage to the plaintiff's reputation."  I would be able to find the same information in the results of the keyword search, but the Words and Phrases search led me right to the definition I needed without any distractions.

A Words and Phrases field search is easy to perform.  Simply enter your search term in parentheses following WP, like this: WP(defamation). The syntax is the same in both Westlaw Classic and WestlawNext, so whichever system you are using, all you have to remember is WP().

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