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Don’t Get “Wild” with Wildcards – Best of eDiscovery Daily


Vive la France!  Today is our second full day in Paris and we’re planning to visit Versailles, which Marie Antoinette loved so much, she lost her head.  For the next two weeks except for Jane Gennarelli’s Throwback Thursday series, we will be re-publishing some of our more popular and frequently referenced posts.  Today’s post is one that we published on our very first day and have referenced frequently over the years.  Enjoy!

Several months ago, I provided search strategy assistance to a client that had already agreed upon several searches with opposing counsel.  One search related to mining activities, so the attorney decided to use a wildcard of “min*” to retrieve variations like “mine”, “mines” and “mining”.

That one search retrieved over 300,000 files with hits.

Why?  Because there are 269 words in the English language that begin with the letters “min”.  Words like “mink”, “mind”, “mint” and “minion” were all being retrieved in this search for files related to “mining”.  We ultimately had to go back to opposing counsel and negotiate a revised search that was more appropriate.

How do you ensure that you’re retrieving all variations of your search term?

Stem Searches

One way to capture the variations is with stem searching.  Applications that support stem searching give you an ability to enter the root word (e.g., mine) and it will locate that word and its variations.  Stem searching provides the ability to find all variations of a word without having to use wildcards.

Other Methods

If your application doesn’t support stem searches, Morewords.com shows list of words that begin with your search string (e.g., to get all 269 words beginning with “min”, go here – simply substitute any characters for “min” to see the words that start with those characters).  Choose the variations you want and incorporate them into the search instead of the wildcard – i.e., use “(mine or “mines or mining)” instead of “min*” to retrieve a more relevant result set.

Some applications let you select the wildcard variations you wish to use.  OnDemand® enables you to type in the wildcard string, display all the words – in your collection – that begin with that string, and select the variations on which to search.  As a result, you can avoid all of the non-relevant variations and limit the search to the relevant hits.

So, what do you think?  Have you ever been “burned” by wildcard searching?  Do you have any other suggested methods for effectively handling them?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.