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Instructions for observing sophisticated search queries provided by research librarians on the help chat function on a legal research platform.
The Law Office of John B. Hudak uses multiple ways to optimize knowledge related to the area of law encompassing the client’s legal issue(s) – one way is using good quality searches. Below is a strategy, which has been used by John Hudak to gain a further understanding of legal searches. The examples of search queries provided when implementing this strategy was an excellent resource for observing sophisticated search queries used by others.
If you have a subscription to a legal research platform try using the “help chat” function or chat bot function to chat with a help-person. Ask the help-person to show you an example of a search query. The example the help-person gives will likely be very different from what you normally enter. Use what you learn from the example(s) for future searches.
A) Ask a Chat Help-Person on the Chat Bot Function to Provide an Example Search Query
Ask the help-person on the help chat function if they can help with a search. Then further explain that you are trying to search for such-and-such idea in the case law – use two or three sentences to describe the idea you’re searching for. Then ask if you can see an example search query that the help-person would use to find that idea. The help-person will then message you a search query which will include: search terms; operators; and any symbols like parenthesis.
B) Ask Questions if All the Parts of the Search Query are Not Understood
Look at the search query the help-person suggested. Try to determine: (a) if you know why every symbol (operators and parenthesis) are being used; and (b) if you know why the components are placed relative to each other and the structure of the symbols (parenthesis) used to separate the components. If you don’t understand the reasoning behind every part of the search query, ask the help-person why the search query is set up the way it is.
C) Look at the Search Results Using That Example Search Query, Then Ask for a Second Search Query Because the Search Results Didn’t Exactly Produce the Desired Result
Then ask the help-person if they can hold on for a few minutes while you look through the results from the example search query. Look through the results quickly – and see generally what comes up. If you find great results – that’s good – but even so – think of some reason either real or imaginary why the results are not exactly what you are looking for. For this, think of something related to the actual idea – and not something that can be narrowed down with an input to a different field like the date of a decision or a particular court. Think of a way you’d like the searches results to be slightly different – something like – the results show that a cause of action exists, but you’d like to see case law where the cause of action exists but almost didn’t. Then go back to the help-person, and say that you almost found what you were looking for, but you’d like to find something slightly different than what was found – and describe that modification to the help-person. And, you’ll ask to see a new search query the help-person suggests for the desired modification to the results. Then, you’ll look at the new search query and ask the help-person to explain the changes if you don’t understand why the changes were done. The changes can include: new elements added; or excluded previous elements.
You can try reviewing the results and asking for another modification, but the help-person will usually stop answering in any detail because they think you are asking them to do the research for you (which justifiably isn't their job, but are there for guidance like you are asking for).
Overall, in the process you will learn a significant amount about how to: (a) set up an initial search query; and (b) do a second search query related to the first query if you have not found exactly what you are looking for.
a) This general strategy can be used on different days – and should be used on different days – when different help-people are answering the chat questions. When done on different days you’ll find different symbols used and a different strategy for setting up the initial search and the second search query related to the first query.
b) Many times the chat function on the legal research platform will allow you to save the conversation you’ve had with the help-person. Save the conversation (or copy and paste into another document). You can go back and read the conversation to repeat the examples – allowing a more thorough examination of the differences in results. Additionally, you may forget exactly what was said because you will likely learn new things for the first time in these conversations.
c) If you don’t have a paid subscription to a legal research platform that provides a chat-help option, you can try this process when doing online research where a reference librarian is available for chatting (public law library or law school law library). I haven’t used this technique with a reference librarian, but it is a situation where it would likely work. Many libraries have reference librarians available by chat. Also, if you are doing research and have the option of talking to a reference librarian – in person or on the phone – you should always take the opportunity to ask questions. The reference librarian likely will provide insights.
d) This general strategy of asking for examples of search queries can be used with search platforms for case law, e-discovery, or other academic research.
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