eDiscovery Searching 101: Don’t Get “Wild” with Wildcards
September 20, 2010
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?
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.
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. FirstPass™, powered by Venio FPR™, 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.