3. What is the Search SYNTAX?
Know your operators – every search is different. Until you know the basic commands for a site – AND, OR, Phrase, etc. – you should consult the “search tips” or “connectors” every time. Many sites include a link to their search tips, operators, connectors, or “search help.” Some, like Saskatchewan Cases, display the operators right on the search page. In CanLII, scroll over the question marks at the end of the command lines for basic commands, and from there click on help page for more detail.
A closely-related and equally crucial question (and the fifth in the list, if you think the thumb is a finger) – what is the default operator? How will the search interpret two words beside each other in the command line without any connector between them? For our Law Society research databases, it is always a phrase – the search will look for those two words in the same order. That’s a bit unusual. Many search engines default to AND, and some to OR.
Increasingly common, though, is a type of hybrid where the search engine looks for the words (1) together in order (phrase), (2) both included but not necessarily together (AND), and (3) either word (OR) – then an algorithm sorts out the order for you, so the most relevant documents are at the top. Yes, for these types of sites maybe you can ignore everything I’ve said about operators and still get somewhat useful results. Fine. But don’t assume that’s the case – I’m talking to you, Millennials!
Stayed tuned for the 4th and final part of this series.
[This tip by Ken Fox originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]