The NZ E-Discovery Blog  Facilitating proportionate and efficient e-discovery

Keyword searching – is there a better option?

October 4th, 2012

Over the last few years there has been a lot written about the (in)effectiveness of keyword searching as an approach to targeting important information. Many have focussed on the problems of keywords to justify the need to move toward more sophisticated approaches like Predictive Coding.

Last week, the NZ Lawyer magazine published an article of mine entitled Keyword searching – is there a better option? (A link to the article can be found here).

The article serves to raise awareness by highlighting potential issues with a keyword search approach, but also looks at how keywords can be run more effectively to ensure they achieve the desired result.

Don’t blindly rely on keywords

Part of the new discovery rules requires parties to ensure they use technology in a way that is both effective and efficient. This does not mean that parties should just agree to use a set of keyword search terms, without seeing if the terms are appropriate for the matter. Blindly relying on the keyword searches, will not deliver back all the important information. There needs to be enough thought go into the process, and the ability to work together with the other parties to ensure the keywords are producing what is sought. This includes exploring their effectiveness, and looking at all potential options to get to the most important documents.

The main themes of the article include – 

  • Highlighting the potential problems with a keyword search approach
  • Outlining how to run more effective keyword searches; and
  • Looking at alternative options to keyword searching, including technologies like Predictive Coding

The article outlines the importance of understanding the potential limitations of any approach, but also coming up with the most effective approach to suit the requirements of the matter at hand.

These points are reinforced by some of the points I made in the conclusion of the article –

Keyword searches are just one of many options to identify relevant documents. It is important to be fully aware of the limitations of running keyword searches and spend enough time devising a search strategy to run more effective searches.

Largely due to the ineffectiveness of keyword searching, more sophisticated alternatives of grouping similar documents together are proving more effective in getting to the important information more quickly, cost effectively and accurately. 

If you are unsure of your search and review strategy then seek expert guidance to assist you with your discovery process.

The important message is that keywords are just one of many options available. If you are to use keywords then put enough thought into the approach and test and sample the results.


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