eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Best Practices: Search “Gotchas” Still Get You


A few days ago, I reviewed search syntax that one of my clients had prepared and noticed a couple of “gotchas” that typically cause problems.  While we’ve discussed them on this blog before, it was over a year ago (when eDiscovery Daily was still in its infancy and had a fraction of the readers it has today), so it bears covering them again.

Letting Your Wildcards Run Wild

This client liberally used wildcards to catch variations of words in their hits.  As noted previously, sometimes you can retrieve WAY more with your wildcards than you expect.  In this case, one of the wildcard terms was “win*” (presumably to catch win, wins, winner, winning, etc.).  Unfortunately, there are 253 words that begin with “win”, including wince, winch, wind, windbag, window, wine, wing, wink, winsome, winter, etc.

How do I know that there are 253 words that begin with “win”?  Am I an English professor?  No.  But, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  Just kidding.

Actually, there is a site to show a list of words that begin with your search string.  Morewords.com shows a list of words that begin with your search string (e.g., to get all 253 words beginning with “win”, go here – simply substitute any characters for “win” in the URL to see the words that start with those characters).  This site enables you to test out your wildcard terms before using them in searches and substitute the variations you want if the wildcard search is likely to retrieve too many false hits.  Or, if you use an application like FirstPass™, powered by Venio FPR™, for first pass review, you can type the wildcard string in the search form, display all the words – in your collection – that begin with that string, and select the variations on which to search.  Either way enables you to avoid retrieving a lot of false hits you don’t want.

Those Stupid Word “Smart” Quotes

As many attorneys do, this client used Microsoft Word to prepare his proposed search syntax.  The last few versions of Microsoft Word, by default, automatically change straight quotation marks ( ' or " ) to curly quotes as you type. When you copy that text to a format that doesn’t support the smart quotes (such as HTML or a plain text editor), the quotes will show up as garbage characters because they are not supported ASCII characters.  So:

“smart quotes” aren’t very smart

will look like this…

âsmart quotesâ arenât very smart

And, your search will either return an error or some very odd results.

To learn how to disable the automatic changing of quotes to smart quotes or replace smart quotes already in a file, refer to this post from last year.  And, be careful, there’s a lot of “gotchas” out there that can cause search problems.  That’s why it’s always best to be a “STARR” and test your searches, refine and repeat them until they yield expected results.

So, what do you think?  Have you run into these “gotchas” in your searches? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.