A good refresher on what comprises a quality preliminary analysis:
When you’re trying to think of search terms, consider these categories:
Remember, the Library has an extensive collection of legal research videos to help you flesh out your research strategy and navigate the sources you will use in legal research:
When receiving your research assignments it’s helpful to stop and ask questions. While it can be tough to think of good and insightful questions in the moment, here’s a helpful list of questions that you can ask to set yourself up for success.
• In what form would you like an answer/what should the deliverable look like?
• Do you have any examples of research submissions from past RAs that you particularly liked?
• Has anyone worked on this research question or a similar one before?
• Do you have any expectations of what I should find?
• How much time would you like me to dedicate to this/when would you like a deliverable by?
• Are there any sources you think I should consult for this question; any I should stay away from?
Once you’ve received your assignment and had a chance to talk with your professor and ask appropriate questions, it’s time to get down to work thinking about the project. While there’s always the temptation to just jump in and start Googling, this is almost never the best approach to starting your research. What you should do is take a moment, do some preliminary analysis, and then get to work on developing a plan, a research plan!
A research plan consists of your preliminary analysis and a strategy of what resources you want to consult. It’s a living document and should stay by your side during your research process. Once you’ve spent a few minutes and gathered your thoughts you’re then ready to start your research.
For tips on what should be in your preliminary analysis and research plan, check out some of the other boxes on this page. Also, our video on the 4-Step Legal Research Process should be helpful.
Every research question is different, and you will need to think critically about what you were asked to determine when your research is done. Sometimes, professors will just ask you to find a case that supports a proposition, some requests will ask for you to “find the law” on a topic, and other requests will ask for more.
Generally, for a legal research issue you should work through the issue using the 4 step legal research process. Please see the library research video series for a greater discussion of this process. Generally, though, it consists of preliminary analysis, consulting secondary sources, moving on to statutory (and regulatory) materials, before finishing by reviewing case law.
A generic step by step:
This of course only applies generally. There are many research requests that will demand some other research planning, some other tools, and some other analysis from you. These can range from needing to find administrative decisions, legislative histories, and more. Luckily, the library is always here for when you run into a roadblock or research you’re unfamiliar with! Turn to the Ask a Librarian tab to find out how to get in touch with us!
When you've built up a wealth of research a universal question eventually comes up: "When should I stop?"
It's a difficult question, particularly so when you're still new to legal research. There's a few ways to know when to stop though and as always, stopping is highly dependent on the question that you were asked.