Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Research Tip - Using the Table of Contents on Westlaw

Statutory codes, such as the USC and the ILCS, are arranged hierarchically by topic. When we say that information is arranged hierarchically, we mean that it is organized from the most general topic to the most specific, with related topics grouped closely together and subtopics appearing directly after the topics to which they relate. The visual representation of a hierarchical arrangement is a detailed outline.

Usually researchers retrieve a statutory section by using a known citation, going through the index, or searching the full text of the statutory code. Even if these methods seem to retrieve exactly what you want, however, you should not stop there. Statutory sections are part of a hierarchical scheme of laws; they rarely stand alone. There may be definitions in another section that control how your section will be interpreted. There may be another section about enforcement of your section. Or you may find another section that is more specifically applicable to your research project.

Because of the hierarchical arrangement of statutory codes, you can see where your section fits into the statutory scheme and find related sections by reviewing the table of contents. The table of contents method works on LexisNexis and Westlaw, in print, and with most statutory codes on the web. This research tip is about using the Table of Contents on Westlaw.

Westlaw has a link from each statutory section to the Table of Contents of the statutory code in which the section appears. Clicking on the Table of Contents link in the left frame changes the display in the right frame to a table of contents that has been expanded to show the sections around your section. Look above and below your section for related sections.

For example, if you had found 42 U.S.C. § 12182, Prohibition of discrimination by public accommodations, which is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, clicking on the Table of Contents link would change the display to an expanded outline showing all of the sections in Subchapter III, Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities. Read § 12181, Definitions, § 12186, Regulations, and § 12188 Enforcement. Scroll up a little further and you will also see § 12101, Findings and Purpose, and § 12102, Definitions, which apply to all the subchapters in Chapter 126, Equal Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities.

Westlaw also provides links from each statutory provision to specific points in the statutory hierarchy. On Westlaw, you will see a mini-outline of the hierarchy in which your section appears at the top of the screen. For example, at the top of 42 U.S.C. § 12182, the following outline appears:

Westlaw TOC links

If you click on the link for Chapter 126 or Subchapter III, a small window pops up showing the text of all of the sections within Chapter 126 or Subchapter III, respectively, without notes or annotations. Click the Maximize button at the bottom of the pop-up window to display the text of all of the sections in the right frame. When the right frame has changed, click on Table of Contents in the left frame to see the outline of the chapter or subdivision now showing in the right frame.

Note: If you click on the Print Doc button at the bottom of the right frame while it is displaying the full chapter or subchapter as described above, you can print the text of all of the sections displayed, without notes or annotations, in one continuous document.

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