Term Frequency and Headnotes

July 19, 2010

“I’m looking for a particular phrase and my search returned a lot of cases, but they’re only mentioning the term in passing instead of discussing it.  What can I do?”

I’m getting this question a lot and I have two solutions that usually solve the problem.

First I use term frequency to make sure the case is mentioning your term more than once.  Under the Search Westlaw button is a link for Term Frequency in many databases.  Clicking on term frequency gives you the option to require your terms and decide how often they must appear in the document.  By forcing your terms to appear multiple times you’re more likely to get cases discussing them in detail.

The other option is to require your term in the headnotes of the case.  This too means you’re likely to get cases that discuss your terms more thoroughly.  For example, if you’re searching for breach of contract, enter HE(breach! /2 contract).  Then, add additional terms;  HE(breach! /2 contract) & “unclean hands” will search for any case with breach of contract in the headnotes and unclean hands anywhere in the case.

*Editors note available in the comments

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