Know How

The blog of the Great Library at the Law Society of Ontario


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Yes, the Words are Important!

Doing some online research and getting no results? Are you using the right words?

When we did research using print sources, the right terms weren’t as essential as they are today. In the print sources you could browse the table of contents and index, review a relevant chapter, and sometimes even open the book to the exact page you need (serendipity – it has happened, honest!).

Doing research with print provides a context; you’re starting with Waddams’ The Law of Contracts, or Brown on Insurance Law in Canada. As you read you discover other relevant terminology and learn more about the area of law. But with online searching you’re sending words into a void with the hope that the results contain the answer you seek.

So how can you avoid wasting time? Begin with the right words. For example, searching for a precedent for a “motion for rectification” instead of an “application for rectification” will return zero results. If you’re not sure of the right words, first do some research in secondary sources such as Perell & Morden’s The Law of Civil Procedure in Ontario, the C.E.D. (print or through WestlawNext Canada) or books on wills and probate. Secondary sources are your friends!

If your online search still doesn’t pull up relevant results, tweak your search. Instead of using a phrase such as “application for rectification”, try broadening the search and do a proximity search instead: application /5 rectification. Be sure to use the correct connectors for the online source since they aren’t always consistent.

It may seem like a waste of time to begin with some preliminary research to gain context and an understanding of a topic, but in the end it may save you time – because the words are important.


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Legal Research Survival Guide, Part 7 –Organizing Your Research

Being an effective organizer is just as important as being an effective researcher—identifying and locating the law and commentary relevant to your research problem is only as useful as your ability to a) find that information again at a later date when it is needed and b) effectively communicate those findings to your principal, your client, others working on the file and most importantly, yourself.

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