eDiscovery Daily Blog

Want to Craft Better Searches? Use a Dictionary – eDiscovery Best Practices

On the very first day we launched this blog nearly four years ago, one of our first blog posts was called “Don’t Get ‘Wild’ with Wildcards” where we showed how a poorly constructed wildcard of “min*” to retrieve variations like “mine”, “mines” and “mining” actually retrieved over 300,000 files with hits because there are 269 words in the English language that begin with the letters “min” (such as words like “mink”, “mind”, “mint” and “minion”).  So, how do you find the actual variations of the word you want?  Use a dictionary.

In that blog post back on September 20, 2010, we discussed that one way to capture the variations is with stem searching.  eDiscovery 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.

But, what if your application doesn’t support stem searching?  As we noted back then, Morewords.com shows list of words that begin with your search string.  So, 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.  You can 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.

However, do you really want to search through 269 words to get the ones you want?  Or, what if you put your wildcard in the wrong place?  You can miss relevant variations as easily as you can over-include non-relevant ones.  How do you get to the right variations of the word you want?  Use a dictionary.

Dictionary.com, that is.  Type in the word that you want at the top of the form and find all of the uses of it (e.g., the yellow sweater is mine) and also variations of it (mined, mining).  You can even find synonyms of the word (e.g., reserve, excavate) on the left hand side of the form (via Thesaurus.com) that might lead to additional terms you may want to include in your search.

A recent client proposed a wildcard of depreciate* to reflect assets that depreciate.  That wildcard would have picked up variations such as depreciates and depreciated, but would have missed other obvious variations like depreciating and, of course, depreciation.  So, believe it or not, a poorly placed wildcard may not be “wild” enough.  How do you make sure you cover all of the variations you need?  Use a dictionary.

So, what do you think? Do you use wildcards in your eDiscovery searches? If so, how do you check them to ensure that they are neither over-inclusive nor under-inclusive?  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.