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You are here: CommonLII >> About CommonLII >> Help >> Search Help
For New Users
If you have never used an Internet search engine before, or at least never used the SINO search engine before, this simple overview will help to get you started.
For Regular Users
If you have used the SINO search engine before, the advanced tips should have what you need. Or you may just want to check the Search Operators Chart and the Common word list (words that cannot be searched for).
If you have never used an Internet search engine before you can have SINO do most of the work for you. A search engine is a computer program that presents you with a list of documents that match the criteria which you specify. You specify the criteria in the form of show me all documents that have the words X, Y and Z in them. You can narrow the criteria, for example: show me documents from Western Australia with the words X, Y and Z in them.
The important thing to note is that the SINO search engine will return to you a list of documents that contain the words (or phrases) that you specify. Therefore you must choose your search words carefully. The best words (or phrases) to choose are those which are unique or particularly distinctive and are, of course, relevant to the subject matter of your query.
The SINO search engine will relevance rank the results by default, which means that the best matches will appear at the top of the list. You will obtain the best results when searching for unique or distinctive words or phrases.
After choosing the unique or distinctive words for which you wish to search, type them into the search form. Now decide if you want to see documents that contain:
Make your selection on the search form.
Finally, decide whether you wish to search over all of the CommonLII databases, an individual database or a group of related databases (eg All Case Law Databases) and then make your selection(s) from the database list.
When ready, press Search. A list of documents will be returned to you. You can use Back on your browser to return to the search screen in order to refine your search.
Two additional search options which you will notice on the search form are using autosearch and this Boolean query. These are explained below.
If you choose the "using autosearch" option, you do not have to specify what type of search you want to carry out. The SINO search engine will analyse the words for which you are searching and attempt to apply the correct search type for you.
Autosearch will recognise a boolean search by the presence of boolean operators in the words for which you are searching. So, if you use and, or, near, w/10 etc, then AutoSearch will automatically treat the search as a Boolean search. If you do not want these words to be treated as boolean operators, you must put the phrase of which they are part in double quotation marks (ie "dogs and cats" and not dogs and cats). NOTE: Excessive placing of phrases in quotation marks can lead to very slow searching.
Section of an Act search
Autosearch will recognise a search which contains any of section 14 of the Privacy Act 1988, Privacy Act 1988, s14 and s14 Spam Act 2003 as a search for a specific section of an Act of Parliament. Note that you must include the year of the Act for this to work.
Case name search
Autosearch will recognise a search which contains v, v., vs, vs. or re as a search for a case name. The search results will be restricted to documents (usually cases or casenotes) containing the phrases on either side of these identifiers, or immediately after the re. So, for example, the following searches all work: Mabo v Queensland, Queensland vs Mabo, Lenah v Australian Broadcasting, Broadcasting Corporation vs Lenah, Re Smith, and In re Smith.
Single phrase search
Autosearch will recognise words enclosed in double quotation marks as a phrase search. So the words "cats and dogs" enclosed in double quotation marks will trigger a phrase search. Note that Autosearch can only deal with a single phrase in double quotation marks. If you want to search for two or more phrases, you will need to use a Boolean search instead.
Unless autosearch recognises your search as one of the above searches, it will default the search type to an any of these words search. Do not forget that you can override autosearch by explicitly choosing another search type.
When you do a SINO search, you are searching for documents which contain some words or phrases. If you can come up with a phrase which you think is distinctive enough, just type it in, set the search method to this Boolean query and hit the ENTER key! This will find all the documents containing the exact phrase you have entered. If you want to find documents with more than one word or phrase, you use the Boolean operators.
If you want more than one phrase or word to appear in the retrieved documents, put an and between them. For example, to find documents containing the phrase moral rights as well as the word copyright, you would type: moral rights and copyright.
If, on the other hand, you want to find one term and/or another one, put an or between them. For example, to find documents which contain the words treaty, convention or international agreement you would type: treaty or convention or international agreement. If you wanted to, you could even put these two searches together - as in: treaty or convention or international agreement and moral rights and copyright.
For more in-depth information see the Search Operators Chart and Common Words List (words that are not searchable).
If you want to find two words or phrases which appear close to each other (for example, the parties to a case), you can use the near proximity operator. If you wanted to find cases where Smith sued (or was sued by) Brown, you would type: smith near brown.
The near proximity operator finds two words or phrases within 50 words of each other. For information on the other proximity operators available, see the Search Operators Chart
If you have used one of the popular online legal database systems (or even if you haven't) you probably do not need to learn anything new. Most Lexis, Status, Info-One, (and for the non-lawyers, even C and agrep) style searches are recognised. See Emulated Search Languages for more information.
For more information on:
search operators (including boolean), see the Search Operators Chart;
words that cannot be searched for, see the Common Words List;
Searching for cases, see the Case Law Help;
SINO, see the Full SINO Documentation.