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Basic Legal Research: Making a Research Plan

This guide is intended to support your legal research instruction as a part of Legal Methods. It does not replace any instructions from your professor.

Fact Situation

Darin drank a few beers, then took his skateboard down to the corner store to pick up some more. On the way back, he swerved into the path of Nadine, who was riding a bike, causing a crash in which Nadine's arm was broken. A police officer was on the scene, noticed that Darin seemed intoxicated, had him do a field sobriety test, and arrested him for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

Developing Search Terms

To research a question, you first need to outline the concepts you're dealing with, and find keywords that fit those concepts.

Darin was charged with operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. There are three major concepts here:

  • Operating
  • Vehicle
  • Alcohol

One way to come up with keywords is to look at related words for each concept.

  • Operating: driving, running, controlling
  • Vehicle: car, skateboard, bicycle, truck, conveyance
  • Alcohol: drink, beverage, drug

These words can be narrower than the concept (car, skateboard, etc. are types of vehicles) or broader (vehicles are a type of conveyance). When you're searching, don't just stick with the words given to you, but have as many backup keywords as possible.

Boolean Searching

Boolean searching (named for the mathematician George Boole) is a more precise method of constructing a search than entering all your search terms together in a box. By using logical operators, such as AND, OR, or NOT, you can create a search that will yield results more on point. The below document contains the most used operators and examples of their use.

Terms and Connectors

CALI Lessons on Research Planning