Not all Data Culling and Key Word Searches are Created Equal in E-Discovery

Failure to employ the proper method for a given search scenario may result in inadvertent disclosure of privileged or otherwise protected information to an opposing party, potentially waiving the privilege or protection.

Failure to identify and produce relevant documents may result in sanctions.

Key word searching is a basic technique employed to locate specific words or terms within a collection of documents.

Key word searches have been historically used to identify documents that are either responsive to a document request or privileged, as well as in large-scale culling and filtering of documents prior to review.

The likelihood of achieving either overly or under inclusive results when employing key word searches alone is high.

This can be due to many factors, including

•             failure to limit the metadata fields that the terms search through,

•             limiting the metadata fields searched to too narrow a scope,

•             or improperly formatted terms.

When crafting a search methodology, the expression ‘garbage in equals garbage out’ applies exponentially.

Determining which search method, or combination of methods, to use requires an understanding of both the body of data to be searched and the reviewer’s intended outcome.

Electronically stored information (or, ESI) is made-up of documents that are more than just a collection of words.

If you are lucky enough to know the exact words that define every person and issue in your case at the outset, then relying singularly on key word searches is not as much of a risk.

That scenario is rare, however.

Keep in mind that key word searching fails to reflect conceptual context.

For example, if you request all documents that have the word “dog,” you will get all documents that contain the word dog; but you will not get documents that mention puppy, Labrador or canine.

(Also,) Searching all terms within every available metadata field may result in additional documents to be reviewed that do not contain useful information.

Due to its simplistic process of matching the search terms with documents, the results of key word searches alone will not help a reviewer to understand how any given document relates to the entire corpus of data being reviewed without further analysis.

This is not to say that key word searching has no place.  It is more accurate to say there are places where it should be used like as a building block for constructing other, more complex, searches.

One advantage of today’s information retrieval technologies is the ability to utilize the right tool for the job at hand.

As the volume of electronic data that is created increases and case law on searching intelligently becomes more prevalent, the need to incorporate advanced search technology and protocol becomes indisputable.

Parties must be prepared to prove that repeatable search methodologies were properly implemented and quality-control tested.

The role of Advanced Discovery is to assist clients in defining the purpose and goals of their searches; structuring, executing and validating the searches performed and reporting on the phases of each search as needed.

To learn more about proper search techniques or how Advanced Discovery can help, follow us at

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