Skip to main content

Locating Articles and Keeping Current: Using Westlaw

A guide on how to find law review and journal articles, non-legal journal articles, legal news articles, and general news articles.

Westlaw's Legal News Databases

Like LexisNexis, Westlaw has several full-text legal newspaper and newsletter databases. The search tips and advice are geared toward law students with academic accounts. This is not a guide that will highlight cost-efficient searching on Westlaw and Lexis.

  • To find Westlaw's legal news databases, there are several options. If you know the title of the publication that you would like to search, click on the "Directory" link at the top of the screen and use the Directory search.

            

  • Below is a portion of the Directory Search Result page. Note the "i" icon next to the hyperlinked databases--open to read the databases' scope information, which tells you the coverage, content highlights, and searching and fields.

 

  • To browse a list of legal newspaper and newsletter databases, click on the bolded link "Legal Periodicals & Current Awareness" on the Directory page:

   

  • At the bottom of the Directory list, you will see several folders. The ones within the red box are most relevant to our present search.

  • A final option is to open the "Business & News" tab and note the databases under "Legal Newspapers & Newsletters." If you do not see this tab, you may add it by clicking on the link "Add a Tab" on the upper right-hand corner of the screen (under the "Sign Off" button).

  • If you click on the "i" icon, next to "Legal Newspapers & Newsletter," you will see a summary of the database contents and coverage.

  • Searching the LEGALNP database. There are many features on Westlaw to help you to craft an efficient search (e.g. Term Frequency, Word Count Search, and SmartTerms). However, unlike Lexis, there is no "HLEAD" field in the LEGALNP database. For this reason, you should use a connector (first try w/p) that will ensure that your terms are located close together in each document. At the bottom of the search page, there is a "Help" link next to "Add Connectors or Expanders" which defines the connects, root expanders, universal character, and how to turn off plurals or equavalents. Another difference between Lexis and Westlaw is the fact that Westlaw reads a space as "OR" while Lexis reads a space as a phrase. You will notice that there are no "ORs" connecting our synonyms in the search below. Also note that the default date restriction of the last 3 years. Again, law students will want to limit/restrict their search after they've taken a look at the results from an intial search.

  • The result list of 149 is sorted chronologicall by default, but you can sort by publication name and article name as well. To add terms to your original search, click on the "Locate in Result" link. Unlike Lexis, you can not limit your search to selected documents. The "Edit Search" link takes you back to your original search. The export options are the icons on the upper right (quick print, print, email, download and other).

LexisNexis and Westlaw Access

IMPORTANT:  LEXISNEXIS & WESTLAW ARE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES THAT REQUIRE INDIVIDUAL USER ACCOUNTS FOR ACCESS!


You will see links to LexisNexis and Westlaw databases throughout our guides, however, according to our contract with these companies, the BLS Library is able to provide these accounts ONLY for BLS Law Students, Staff and Faculty!  Non-BLS users should contact the companies directly for access. 

Westlaw's Database Directory

You can find out if a database or publication is offered on Westlaw without signing on first, by going to Westlaw's Database Directory, which is freely available on the Internet. If the direct link above fails, the link is on the Westlaw sign on page, under "Resources."

There are two search options: (1) Search for a Database (by entering key terms into the search box) or (2) Browse Databases (opening the folders, which are categorized by broad subject area, jurisdiction, and publication type.

When searching for a database, the default search is Natural Language, which retrieves a default number of 100 documents. I suggest that you use Terms & Connectors instead--joining phrases (in double quotes) or words with AND or &. Once you find the database(s) that you want to search, take note of the database identifier(s) because you can enter the identifiers into the "Search for a database" text box (which is located on several Shortcuts pages and can always be found on the Directory page). To access multiple databases, you can type up to 10 database identifiers, separated by commas or semicolons in the "Search for a database" text box.

Westlaw: Searching Tips

There are two search options: Terms & Connectors and Natural Language.

Using Terms & Connectors allows you to craft precise searches, which is especially important when searching full text documents. Depending on the size of the database, this means that you are searching thousands of documents, millions of pages.

If you are unfamiliar with Terms & Connectors searching, click on the "Help" link next to "Add Connectors or Expanders" which is located at the very bottom of the search page, following the SmartTerms box.

Also, keep things simple. Don't create overly complicated searches, unless you absolutely need to. Expect to re-do and edit your searches as you learn the system and as you gather more information from scrolling through your results.

Truncation symbol is the exclamation point (!). Use to retrieve variation of terms. For example, discriminat! will find discriminate, discrimination, discriminating, discriminates.

Commonly used connectors:

  • AND: use to connect terms that may be anywhere in a document.
  • OR/space: use to find synonyms, alternative phrases, or abbreviations (to keep terms organized I prefer to contain my OR terms in parentheses, but this is not required)
  • w/n: use this connector to find terms that are within "n" number of words (to the left or right) of each other. The idea is that you want the terms to appear close together in the document.
  • w/s: use this connector to find terms that are within the same sentence.
  • w/p: use this connector to find terms within the same paragraph (if you aren't sure which connector to use, start with w/p. Depending on your results, you can then either use w/s or w/n to adjust your search).

Useful commands:

  • Term Frequency: use to require that a word appears "at least" so many times in a document. Use if you want only documents that contain an in-depth discussion on a topic rather than just a mention. Use this command to refine your original result list. Link is located under the "Search Westlaw" button on the Terms & Connectors search page.
  • Case-sensitive Searching: use to restrict your Terms & Connectors search to find works in which all the letters are capitalized or all letters are lowercase. This is especially useful if you are searching for an acronym that is also a commonly used word, such as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).   

In the sample search to the left, we searched for articles about lead poisoning of children. Our synonyms are in parentheses and are connected by spaces: (child! infant!) /p (poison! toxic!). We used /p  because we did not limit our search to a discrete field (the equivalent of LexisNexis' "segments") and we want to make sure our terms appear close together in the documents. If we discover that our results are not relevant, we could edit our connector to /s or /10.

The second search option is Natural Language searching, which only requires that you enter a few terms in the search box, without truncation symbols, connectors or commands. However, do place phrases in quotation marks. Generally, type in the terms that you would use if you were describing your research project to another person. In addition, the more relevant terms you enter, the better your result list will be. If your result list needs refining, use the "Require/Exclude Terms" link located under the date restriction drop-down box. Here you can mandate that specific terms appear between 1 and at least 50 times in each document you retrieve. You may also exclude terms that appear in your documents, but take care to exclude terms that are unique (so that you don't exclude potentially relevant documents).

Natural Language searching is useful when Terms & Connectors searching is not working for you or when you only need to find one or two relevant documents in order to begin your research. In addition, you may not know what terms to use or what connectors to choose. Keep in mind that Natural Language searching will retrieve a set number of results (usually 20 or 100).