Saturday, February 19, 2005

Research Tips for Using LexisNexis Congressional

The following tips are provided in response to frequently asked reference questions we have received this week from students working on their Legislative History assignments.

LexisNexis Congressional is a fabulous resource, indexing Congressional documents from 1789 to current, abstracting Congressional documents from 1970 to current, and providing full-text access to bills (1989-current), committee reports (1990-current), Congressional Record (1985-current), Congressional testimony, i.e., prepared statements and transcripts of testimony before Congressional committees and subcommittees (1988-current), House and Senate documents (1995-current), select committee prints (1993-current), and much more.

As you can tell from the description above, the type of information available depends upon the date of the information. For very old Congressional documents, LexisNexis Congressional only provides indexing information, which you can use to find the actual documents in print or micro-format. Beginning in 1970, abstracts of the documents are also available, but full-text documents did not become available electronically until the 1980s or 1990s, depending upon the type of document.

The wealth and variety of information available on LexisNexis Congressional sometimes make it difficult for beginning or infrequent users to find what they need. Even the Help tools are not very intuitive. When researchers click on Help, they see information on LexisNexis Congressional content, an overview of the legislative process, a legislative glossary, and advice about citation to Congressional documents. While this information is helpful, it is probably not what most researchers are seeking when they click on Help.

The home page is a good place to get an overview of what is included in each of the dozen Congressional Search Forms from which you must choose. The link back to the Home page is three links to the left of the Help link. On the home page, you will learn that the CIS Index has indexing, abstracts and legislative histories from 1970 to present, and that the Historical Indexes include Congressional Indexes for 1789-1969 and Indexes to Unpublished Hearings through 1980. Therefore, if you want anything very current, you should start in the CIS Index.

The home page's description of the Testimony search form advises you that it will retrieve prepared statements and selected question & answer transcripts from 1988 to present. What is not obvious from the description, or from the search form, is the fact that the documents retrieved are from news sources. They are very current, but they are not official documents, and they do not include the information you need to find or cite to the official committee hearing documents. If you need a SuDoc number or a CIS number to retrieve the official document, or citation information to the official document, start in the CIS Index. The CIS Index provides citation information, SuDoc and CIS numbers, and links to available full-text documents.

If you are stuck at some point in your research, you will probably find the "How Do I?" page more helpful than Help. The link to the "How Do I?" page is two links to the left of the Help link. The nice thing about the "How Do I?" page is that it links to the recommended search form, and the left column of the page shows you where that form fits within the list of indexes. For example, the answer to "How do I find congressional publications on a specific topic?" links to the Subject Index. If you click on the link, you will go to the Subject Index page. Looking at the list of indexes in the left column, you will learn that the subject index is one of many handy indexes listed under the CIS Index.

CIS Subject Index

One more place to look, if you are stuck and the "How Do I?" page did not help, is the Site Map. The link to the Site Map is immediately to the left of the Help link. The Site Map lists all the search options available under each of the Congressional Search Forms listed in the left column of most pages.

These Research Tips are provided for your convenience. You may also ask a reference librarian for assistance.

Archive of Research Tips

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