Quick Reference Guide
Syntax Quick Reference
Printing & Saving
Glossary of Terms
Welcome to the Social Law Library's Massachusetts Law on the Web. The current version of the software used to search the databases requires that your browser accept cookies from this web site. This is a setting that must be turned on in your browser preferences or options (e.g., Firefox, Internet Explorer). If you need help with that setting call Social Law Library Technology Services at (617) 523-0018, ext. 570. Also, please note the following:
- Usernames/passwords are not CaSe sensitive.
- Databases may time out after 12 minutes of inactivity.
Search Syntax Quick Reference
|Operator or Scope ||Examples |
|And ||one two ||one and two ||one & two |
|Or ||me or you || |
|Not ||not him || |
|Exclusive Or (Xor) ||(apples and not oranges) ||(oranges and not apples) || |
|Phrase ||"to be or not to be" ||"four score and seven" || |
|Single Character Wild Card ||wom?n |
|g??b?r || |
|Multiple Character Wild Card ||work* ||h*t* || |
|Ordered Proximity ||united pre/10 states of pre/10 america || || |
|Unordered Proximity ||uncle w/10 sams w/10 army || || |
First, choose a database to search. The search screen in any database indicates the dates of coverage for that database. The navigation buttons at the top allow a user to:
- return to the list of databases by clicking on List Databases
- go to the search results screen (applicable to the last search in that database in that session) by clicking on View Contents
- start a new search by clicking on Clear Query
- refer to search “connectors” by clicking on Search Syntax
While each database has search screen fields that relate to the content of that database, the search screen for every database has a Text field, which searches every field (more reliably) and allows a key word search. The computer is looking for an exact match for the words used by the court, unless modified by a Search Syntax option, such as the asterisk wildcard. If one search term provides fewer hits than expected, a search with a similar word, which the court may have used in the decision, may prove to be more productive. Also, it is better to start with a broad search than a narrowly defined one.
The results of your search appear on the Contents Screen. There will be an indication at the top of the page as to how many Hits, or appearances of the search term(s), were found in that database. The case name, or section title, appears underlined, with the search term highlighted with words around it on the lines below the underlined heading information. A search result with many hits may fill several screens. By scrolling down and clicking on the Next arrow in the bottom right corner the next screen of search results will appear. Note: If there are no hits, all of the items in the database will be displayed and "Hits: 0" will be displayed at the top of the screen.
Clicking on the underlined heading information on the Contents Screen will take you to the beginning of that case or section. There is a button that allows you to Print This Decision, which will print only this case or section. The top of the screen shows two very helpful navigation buttons, not previously discussed herein, which are labeled Next Hit and Previous Hit. Clicking on Next Hit takes you to the next appearance of the search term, whether in that case or the next case within that search result.
Special Considerations for Certain Databases
In the SJC/Appeals Court database, a user can search the SJC, the Appeals Court, or the decisions of both courts (the default choice) in one search. A specific case can be brought up by entering theMassachusetts Reports “Volume Number” and “Page Number” in the respective fields, next to “Citation.” For example: if you were looking for 310 Mass. 1, you would enter 310 in the volume field and 1 in the page number field.
You can also use the database as a citator, to retrieve a desired case and any time it was cited by an appellate court. To do this, type in the name of your case, by party or by volume and page number, like so:"351 27"/10 or "Commonwealth Gomes"/10. This will search for all documents where a case has been cited by volume (351) and page number (27), or by party name. The two search terms (in these instances 351 and 27, and Commonwealth and Gomes) must be enclosed in quotation marks followed by a forward slash. The number ten represents the greatest number of words that can be found between your search terms. This is also known as a Proximity Search, which has many other useful applications.
It is critical to note, especially in the MGL or CMR, that the wildcard is the asterisk (*). If you are looking for a particular chapter of the Code, you need to type the chapter number in the chapter field. For example: if you were looking for 110 CMR in its entirety, you would need to type 110 in the chapter field and "*" in the section field. This will give you 110 CMR in its entirety. If you know what section you are looking for, you need to type the chapter number in the chapter field and the section number followed by a "*" in the section field. For example: if you were looking for 110 CMR 1.00, you would need to type 110 in the chapter field and 1* in the section field. This will give you 110 CMR 1.00 and all corresponding subsections.
The database search engine offers many unique search features. The simplest search is the single word search. This is a very broad search and should be used when you have little or no direction. If you type more than one search term the software will treat the search as an AND search and will look for records with BOTH terms
You can also search for phrases within infobases. To search for a phrase, enter the phrase by using (") quotes, i.e., "unjust enrichment". The infobase will search for "unjust enrichment" as a single term as opposed to unjust AND enrichment anywhere within an infobase.
You can combine the single word search with the phrase search. For example, searching for "unjust enrichment" contract will find records within an infobase that contain both the phrase unjust enrichment and the term contract. Only those records with both of these words in them will appear on the results list.
The database search engine software provides search operators to control your search further. The three operators are And, Or, or Not:
The And operator may be a single space, the ampersand (&) or the word And. The And operator requires that either words or phrases on either side of the operator appear in the same decision. If only one term or phrase is present than that decision will not be considered a hit.
The Or operator requires that at least one of the words or phrases on either side of the operator appear in a decision. If neither of the words or phrases appear in a decision then the decision will not be considered at hit. Records that contain both words and/or phrases will also appear on your results list. The Or search is an expansion on the And search.
Use this operator when you require a better focus on an idea. If you use the Not operator in between two words then the software will look for records with the first term but NOT the second term contained in them.
The database search engine applies search precedence when there are two or more search operators used.
- When a query contains two or more of the same operator, relationships are formed from left to right.
A search for legal and seizure will search for all records with the term legal first and then for the records with seizure last.
- When a query contains two or more different search operators, the precedence is set up in the following order:
You can control precedence of your queries by using parentheses around words and operators. If you want to evaluate an And operator first, put parentheses around the terms. For example the query, (one & two) or three, will execute the And search first then the Or.
The database search engine offers many Wildcard Features that can be used with search terms.
Single Character Wildcard
Use the (?) symbol for the Single Character Wildcard. This feature is used to replace any single character in a word which you are searching for. For example, t?rt will retrieve tort and tart. You can also use more than one (?) within in a search term, for example, t?rt? will retrieve tort and torts etc.
Multiple Character Wildcard
Use the (*) symbol for the Multiple Character Wildcard. This feature is used to replace zero or more characters in a word which you are searching for. For example, the* will retrieve the, there, theater, they, theology, theme etc. This is a very powerful wildcard and it has the potential of retrieving many records.
Wildcards are very useful when used in the date field. For instance, searching 9/*/98 in the date field will search the entire month of September for the year 1998.
At some point in your research you may need to find words within a certain distance of each other. You could use the phrase technique but remember by putting your search terms in quotes, the search engine will search for the phrase as a single term, ie, "housing for the elderly" will be searched for as is typed and retrieve minimal records. Whereas, the word housing near the word elderly could broaden your search. There are two types of proximity searches.
Ordered Proximity Search
An ordered proximity search instructs the software to look for the words in the query, in the order in which they appear, and within a specified number of words of one another. In between the two search terms you want to find close to each other, type "pre/" then a number to execute the ordered proximity search. For example, "elderly pre/20 housing" will retrieve records which have elderly then housing within 20 words of one another. The word elderly must appear before the word housing or the decision will not appear in the results list.
Note: you must put your search terms within (") quotation marks when using the ordered proximity search.
Unordered Proximity Search
An unordered proximity search instructs the software to look for the words in the query within a specified number of words of one another, regardless of order. In between the two search terms you want to find close to each other, type "w/" then a number to execute the unordered proximity search. For example, "elderly w/20 housing" will retrieve records which have elderly and housing within 20 words of one another regardless of the order.
To print an entire case, simply click on the Print button
To save an entire case, simply click on the File pull down menu and select Save As…, then choose a file name and the directory it is to be store in. The file can now be open in any word processor.
Infobase - this is the database in which you are searching, e.g., Massachusetts General Laws or Code of Massachusetts Regulations.
Hit - any reference to your search terms in one record.
Record - in the database search engine, about one printed page of material, which can be equivalent to three to four pages of a standard paper document.