By Alan Kilpatrick
The Internet is home to a growing body of high quality materials such as research guides, government reports, and legal commentary. Accessing this material is as easy as typing keywords into Google and hitting enter, right? Wrong!
The challenge to using Google efficiently is wading through the overwhelming volume of results retrieved. Fortunately, there are tools to help pinpoint what you are looking for. There is far more to searching Google than you might think.
Identify the Core Concepts
The first step to searching effectively is selecting effective search terms. Identify the core concepts. These will become your search terms. Remove vague terms from the query. They do nothing to improve the quality of the results. Do not type a full question in the search bar. Focus on the core concepts and eliminate everything else.
Search Operators and Filters
Operators and filters enable you to search with precision. Advanced searches can be conducted with Google’s advanced search page or by incorporating operators and filters directly into Google’s search bar. I recommend incorporating them into the search bar. The real power of operators and filters comes from combining them together. The search bar enables you to combine them with ease. It is awkward to combine them with the advanced search page.
Here are the most useful operators and filters:
AND: AND separates terms that are distinct concepts, such as robbery AND weapon. It narrows a search by retrieving results that contain both terms. It is Google’s default operator. As such, it is not necessary to type AND. A space between terms is automatically interpreted as AND: robbery weapon.
OR: OR is used to separate terms that are synonyms of the same concept, such as (armed OR weapon OR knife). It broadens a search by retrieving results that contain any of the search terms, but not necessarily all. Enclose OR statements in brackets.
NOT: NOT is represented by the minus sign. It excludes results that contain a particular term. For example, tort -defamation will not retrieve results that contain the term defamation.
PHRASE: To search for an exact phrase, enclose the phrase in quotes. For example, “child of the marriage”.
SITE: Site limits the search to results from a certain website or domain. For example, divorce site:gc.ca only retrieves results from the Government of Canada domain. divorce site:plea.org retrieves results from plea.org. This makes it easy to locate results from trustworthy websites.
ALLINTITLE: Title limits the search to results that contain the terms in the title. For example, allintitle:legal regulation will retrieve results with these words in the title. If your terms appear in the title of a document, it is likely relevant.
FILETYPE: File type limits the results to a certain file format. For example, lsat filetype:pdf will retrieve results in PDF. lsat filetype:ppt will retrieve results in PowerPoint.
Combining Operators and Filters
Combining operators and filters together will enable you to craft powerful queries and locate good results. For example, (paralegal OR “legal technician”) “legal regulation” site:lawsociety.sk.ca filetype:pdf will retrieve PDF documents from the Law Society of Saskatchewan domain on paralegals and legal regulation.
Evaluating the Results
Not everything Google retrieves is credible. It is up to you to evaluate the results. Consider authority, objectivity, and authorship. Recognise that the order of the search results is not based on authority. It is based on Google’s search algorithm. The results most relevant to you may appear much farther down the results list. Consider searching Google Scholar if you need scholarly and academic resources.
We have only just scratched the surface of Google today. Please contact the Law Society if you have any other questions.