Tips for Using the Law Reform Database

This page explains how to use the Law Reform Database search feature.

At the end of the page are some further tips to try if your search wasn’t successful.

Overview

You can restrict your search by:

  1. specifying terms that should appear (or not appear) in the publication’s title
  2. specifying terms that should appear (or not appear) in the publication’s list of keywords
  3. specifying terms that should appear in the publication’s list of subjects
  4. specifying the jurisdiction the publication applies to
  5. specifying a range of years during which the publication was published (If you leave the “from” date blank, the search will include all years prior to and including the “to” field. If you leave the “to” field blank, the search will include all years following and including the “from” field.)
  6. specifying the agency that created the publication
  7. specifying the document type of the publication (report, study paper, newsletter etc)
  8. specifying the publication’s ISN
  9. specifying the publication’s publication number (given to it by the agency that created it)

The more fields you fill in, the fewer results you will find, because the search will require that every field restriction you’ve specified is met. For more details on this, scroll down to the Using Multiple Search Fields section below.

Operators

Two of the search fields (and only those two search fields) support the use of the operators below: Word or Phrase in Title and Keywords. If you use one of the operators (AND, OR, or the minus sign) in one of the other fields, the search will
look for text containing that actual operator, which is likely not what you’ll want.

Find Operator (case sensitive) Example
ANY of these words OR land OR title
ALL of these words AND/no operator land AND title/land title
Exact PHRASE “” “land title”
EXCLUDE this word land -title

You can use search operators to join words typed into a search field to form a more complex search query. The Title and Keywords fields support four types of operators.

OR. To find records containing any of a series of words, use the operator OR between each word. For example, entering land OR title in the keywords search field will return records containing either land or title in the record. This operator is case sensitive. This means that you must type OR all in capital letters to use the operator. Typing or in lower-case letters tells the search module to search for the word or in records (and since the default search word length is three characters, the search module simply ignores it and does an AND search with the other words in the query.)

AND. To find records containing all of a series of words, use the operator AND between each word. For example, entering land AND title in the keywords search field will return records containing both land and title in the record. This operator is case sensitive. This means that you must type AND in capital letters to use the operator. Typing and in lower-case letters tells the search module results in a search for the word and in records. This operator is also the default operator for the database. This means that, for example, if you enter land title it will be read as if you had typed land AND title.

Exclusionary searches. You can exclude items from your search by using the minus sign (-). For example, entering land -title (by typing land [space] minus sign [no space] title) in the keywords search field will return records that contain the word land but do not also contain the word title. It is important that you enter an exclusionary search query exactly in the form used in the example. There must be a space before the minus sign and no space after the minus sign. If you do not phrase your search in this manner you may not get the results you were expecting.

Combining operators. You can combine operators in a single search query. For example, entering land title -easement in the keywords search field will return records that contain the words land and title but do not also contain the word easement.

Truncation. The search function does not support wildcard or truncated searches.

Plurals. Plurals must be searched using plural search terms.

Using Multiple Search Fields

The law reform database has nine search fields for entering search queries (listed at the top of this page). We’ll use three of those fields in our discussion below, to clarify how searches work when multiple fields are filled in.

Keywords

Publications in the database are usually (but not always) assigned a set of keywords. If you enter a word into the Keyword field, the search will only display those publications which have that word in the Keywords field. (It will not look for publications with have that word in the title, unless you’ve specifically asked for that word in the Title field.)

Year

If you leave the “from” date blank, the search will include all publications published in the years prior to and including the “to” field. If you leave the “to” field blank, the search will include all publications published in the years following and including the “from” field. If you want to see publications only from a single year, put that year in both the “from” and “to” field. If you want publications from any year at all, leave both these fields blank.

This search field may be used on its own or in combination with other search fields. For example:

  • a search using 1979 in both the YEARS fields returns all records in the database with a publication year of 1979
  • a search using 1979 in both the YEARS field and ‘defamation’ in the KEYWORDS field returns all records with a publication year of 1979 and the word ‘defamation’ in the keywords
  • a search using 1979 in both the YEARS fields and report in the DOCUMENT TYPE field returns all records that are reports published in 1979.

Document Type

The document type is the word or words used by the publishing agency to describe the document. Some examples of document types are: report, consultation paper, working paper, study paper, discussion paper, issues paper, etc. The document type field may be used on its own or in combination with other fields. For example:

  • a search using report in the DOCUMENT TYPE field returns all records in the database that are classified as reports in the document type field of the record
  • a search using report in the DOCUMENT TYPE field and ‘defamation’ in the KEYWORDS field returns all records that are classified as reports and that also contain the word ‘defamation’ in the keywords
  • a search using report in the DOCUMENT TYPE field and 1979 in both the YEARS fields returns all records that are reports published in 1979.

Not finding the results you were hoping for?

The database only returns exact matches. If you search ‘conveyances’ and a document’s record only contains ‘conveyance’, that record will not be returned in your results.

  • Try using OR to search for variations of your search term: conveyance OR conveyances OR conveyancing.

This tip of using OR to search for variations of a term is particularly important for terms that may have dashes or apostrophes within the word, such as child’s best interest or end-of-life.

  • Try searching for child OR child’s OR children OR childs AND best AND interest.
  • Try searching for end-of-life OR “end of life”.

Take advantage of subject headings. The database employs subject headings based on the controlled Moys vocabulary. So, unlike keywords, subject headings are standardized phrases or words that are based on the content of the document, not on the specific terms used in the document. Subject headings are very useful for pulling together documents on the same general topic. Different agencies, particularly in different countries, may use different terminology when discussing the same concept. For example, one agency may discuss limitation periods while another agency discusses a limitation act and a third talks about limitation of actions.

Since the keywords in a document’s database record generally reflect the terminology in the document, if you just search for limitation of actions, you will not get the first or second document. One way to get around this is to use OR to group together all the possible ways to describe a concept: limitation periods OR limitation act OR limitation of actions. But you may be unaware (or forget to include) some of the variations.

This is where subject headings are particularly valuable, since all three papers in the example above would be assigned the Moys subject heading “limitations of actions.”

Another example of where subject headings are useful is when one document refers to a society and another to an unincorporated nonprofit organization. Both documents will receive the subject heading associations, and can be retrieved by searching for that term.

If you are already familiar with the Moys schema, you can jump right in and search for relevant subject headings. Otherwise, try to find one useful document. Then, look at its subject headings to find relevant subject headings for your search. You can use a similar strategy for identifying keywords, although it is important to remember that even if two documents are discussing the same topic, they may use different terms.


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