Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Research Tip – Read the Instructions

LexisNexis and Westlaw have so many sources and databases containing such a variety of information that it is impossible to keep track of them all. But you don't have to try to remember the contents of every source and database. That information – and more – is readily available from nearly anywhere in your research on these two systems. Whenever you see a small "i" after a source or database name, you can click on it to find out what all is included and the dates covered by the source or database. LexisNexis displays its informational "i" in a small gray square; Westlaw uses a green circle.

But information about the contents is not the only research assistance available via the "i" link. Both systems include tips for researching the source or database. LexisNexis includes sample documents with the Segments marked, which can be very helpful if you are unsure of the appropriate Segment to use. Westlaw includes descriptions of its Fields and tips for searching "phrase indexed" fields.

Reading the instructions is a good idea no matter what type of research you are doing. If you are searching the web, look for "Help" or "Tips" links on the search engine's web page. If you are browsing a web site, look for descriptions of what the site contains and how it is organized. Most quality print legal publications also include tables of abbreviations, instructions on how to use the publication, and information on dates covered. Look for them.

If you do not have much experience in using a legal research tool, take a few minutes to read the instructions — especially if you are in a hurry. The few minutes you spend educating yourself will pay for itself in the time you save by researching more efficiently.

Previous Research Tips:

Searching Just the Text of Statutes
Topic and Key Number Searches on Westlaw
Think Small
Searching Is Not Research
Don't Get Caught Without a Search Engine

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