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Legal Research Quick Reference Guide


Natural Language (NL) Searching on Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law

Using Natural Language:  

  • enter as a list of keywords (legal concepts and important facts)
  • can include synonyms (though on Lexis, it is usually better to limit the number of synonyms when doing a NL search)
  • will automatically search for common types of word variations (e.g., plural forms, past tense forms, etc.)
  • can use quotes for exact phrases (e.g., “free speech”) (though on Lexis, plural forms of phrases placed in quotes won't be searched (e.g., "private school" will not retrieve "private schools")
  • On Lexis, you can also use the other Terms & Connectors special symbols described below (e.g., !, *) 
  • generally recommend using this method before using the Terms & Connectors method

NL Search Statement Examples:  

  • "free speech” school university
  • smell marijuana justify warrantless search
  • age discrimination employment

Terms & Connectors (T/C) Searching on Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law

Using Terms & Connectors:

  • Only documents that satisfy the search parameters you set will be retrieved.
  • Synonyms should be included (joined by the OR connector).
  • On Lexis and Westlaw, some types of word variations (including plural forms) will automatically be searched.


  • and - both terms/phrases must appear in the document 
    • On Bloomberg Law, AND must be in CAPS.
  • or - either term/phrase must appear in the document 
    • On Bloomberg Law, OR must be in CAPS.
  • /s - terms/phrases must be in the same sentence
  • /p - terms/phrases must be in the same paragraph
  • /n - terms/phrases must be within a certain number of words of each other (e.g. /10 requires the terms to be within 10 words of each other)

Special Symbols/Commands:

  •  " " - terms must appear as they appear within the quotation marks - use for exact phrases (e.g., "free speech")
  • ! - root expander - use at the end of a root to find various forms of a word (e.g., harass! will find harass, harassed, harassing, etc.) 
    • On Bloomberg Law, the ! should almost always be used since variant forms of words (including plurals) are not automatically searched.
    • On Lexis, either the ! or the * can be used as the root expander (e.g., harass* and harass! will be searched the same way)
  • * - wild card or universal character - use in the middle of a word for single character variations (e.g., wom*n will retrieve woman and women)
    • On Lexis, use the ? as the wild card symbol (e.g., wom?n)
  • atleast#(term) - requires a certain number of occurrences of a word or phrase in a document (e.g., atleast5(wrongful) requires at least 5 occurrences of the term wrongful)

T/C Search Statement Examples: 

  • "free speech" /s school! OR college! OR universit!
  • age /10 discriminat! /p employ! 
  • school! OR college! OR universit! AND atleast5("free speech")

Major T/C Differences Between Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law


Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law have different rules regarding how a space between two terms (without a connector or quote marks) will be treated in a T/C search  There are also different rules that determine when a search will be run as a T/C search rather than a NL search.  These differences are summarized in the chart below.

                                                               LEXIS                                     WESTLAW                                             BLOOMBERG LAW                         
If there is no connector  between two terms . . .                                                             

. . . the two terms are searched as an exact phrase, even without quote marks.  Quotation marks can be used but Lexis won't search for variant forms (even the plural form) if the phrase is in quotes (e.g., "business association" will not retrieve business associations).

. . . an OR connector is automatically inferred, unless the phrase is placed in quotes (e.g., business association will be read as business OR association).  Therefore, exact phrases MUST be placed in quotes (e.g., "business association").                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          . . . depending on the search, the two terms are searched as an exact phrase or a connector is inferred.  Therefore, it is recommended that you use quote marks if you want the terms searched as an exact phrase (e.g., "business association") or include whatever connector(s) you wish to use (e.g., employee! /s discriminat! /10 age).                                                                                                                                                      
Required element for a Terms & Connectors search

at least one connector (AND, OR, /p, /s, /n) 

[The root expander (!) and wild card (*) symbols are NOT sufficient.]

at least one proximity connector (/p, /s, /n) or the root expander (!) or wild card (*) symbol

[The AND and OR connectors are NOT sufficient.]   

Including adv: before a NL search will convert it to a T/C search.                                                                                                                                 

At least one connector (AND, OR, /p, /s, /n) or the root expander (!) or wild card (*) symbol                         

[The AND and OR connectors should be in CAPS.]