It’s About Efficiency – Why Use an Index When You Can Full Text?

If you’re looking for law review articles or other legal periodicals, your first thought might be to go to Lexis or Westlaw and navigate to the law reviews portion of those databases. From there you might decide to do a natural language or a terms and connectors (Boolean) search on your topic and review the results. The potential issue with this research strategy is that you may be facing a results list that is hundreds or even thousands deep. This is because you’re searching a full text database, which gives you results no matter where your search terms appear in a document.

Enter the index – a research tool that can help you quickly get to the most on point articles on your topic without having to review tons of results. Indexes are not full text, instead they bring you results when your search terms match the article title, abstract or author. This means that your results list will be much smaller, but way more on point, and this can save you time researching. Think about it – if your search terms make it into the abstract of an article, then it’s a guarantee that your article is all about those search terms.

One index to check out is Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP), which indexes legal periodicals from 1981 to the present. Many times your results in ILP will include a PDF or HTML version of the article, even though your search in the index did not search the article full text. If the text of the article is not included in your result, then you have the article citation and can look it up in Lexis, Westlaw, or elsewhere.

For more ideas about researching legal articles, have a look at our research guide Finding Articles in Law Reviews and Journals.