advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

technology  research  practice

All Our Research Tips

We’ve covered bad business jargon in this space, but other fields of endeavour are guilty of polluting the language with their specialist lingo.

Human resources (itself a piece of HR jargon; it used to be personnel or, in a more sexist age, manpower) comes to mind. Here are some examples of HR jargon to avoid; there are many more.

Americans often refer to a diverse attorney when they want to describe a lawyer (as we would typically say in Canada) from a background that is other than white, male, straight, middle class. But in a room full of brown lesbian barristers, there is no diversity (at least on the basis of race, sexual orientation or area of practice). We are diverse only in relation to others and collectively.

What the adjective means in diverse lawyers is, less concisely but more accurately, historically disadvantaged or underrepresented in the legal profession. That’s a bit of a mouthful, so perhaps diverse in this context serves a purpose.

But I still don’t like its imprecision.

Originally, feed-back; and used to describe the return of electrical output from one segment of a circuit or amplifier to an earlier stage of input – like the feedback from the speakers when you’re rocking out on an electric guitar.

From about the 1940s, the word began to be applied metaphorically to a response to any kind of process, often in relation to the kind of behavioural conditioning associated with the American psychologist B.F. Skinner.

More recently, and in HR-speak, feedback has come to mean commentary on someone’s job performance.

Given the origins of the term in circuitry and behavioural science, where feedback is involuntary or automatic, rather than thoughtful or considered, its extension to performance reviews is somewhat unfortunate. Couldn’t we just ask for comments, views or a review? But this is a losing battle; feedback in its HR sense is here to stay.

This is a recent coinage, much loved by those who give (but perhaps not receive) performance reviews.

It was invented as an opposite for reactive, a quality which is perceived as a weakness and in need of a forward-looking alternative (even though reacting is often all one can do when events are unforeseen or unforeseeable, as they often are).

Even those with foresight don’t proact, they simply act; and if one is both thinking ahead, one anticipates. Seen in a positive light, proactive means thoughtful or careful; more neutrally, merely fortunate in predicting an outcome (or in making it look as though one saw it coming).

Either way, proactive is overused HR jargon that is best avoided.

This is another piece of weary HR-ese, with unpleasant overtones of organised fun, forced collegiality and top-down decision-making (Andrea and her team just makes me think it’s all about Andrea, somehow).

Or maybe I’m just not a team-player.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


While some acts come into force on Royal Assent, many require Proclamation or an Order in Council to do so. A number of provinces publish tables that let you see if a specific act has been proclaimed.

Federal: Go to LEGISinfo, find your act and then click on the link for Coming into Force information. You can also check the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers which lists all the coming into force information for the consolidated version of an act.

Alberta: Check Recent Proclamations and the Alberta Gazette, Part I (use the Proclamations section of the Table of Contents to find a specific act).

British Columbia: Go to the Regulations Bulletins and look under “Acts in Force” on the Cumulative Regulations Bulletin. As with the Alberta Gazette, you will have to do this year by year.


Newfoundland and Labrador:

Nova Scotia:

Nunavut: You can find in force dates in the Table of Public Acts.


Prince Edward Island: You can find in force dates in the Table of Public Acts.


Saskatchewan: The Saskatchewan Gazette, Part I lists both acts proclaimed that year and acts still waiting to be proclaimed.

(My apologies to New Brunswick: I wasn’t able to find a table of in force dates.)

Susannah Tredwell


LinkedIn helpfully provides readymade comments on the updates that your connections post there. If your colleague Luisa has a new job, you can just click on a button below her update to post an immediate Congrats Luisa.

That should be Congrats, Luisa, however. To get technical, this is a vocative construction that traditionally requires a comma before the name of the person being addressed. Similarly, it should be Thanks, Denis and Hello, Yolanda.

In modern professional correspondence by e-mail (or LinkedIn posting), the vocative comma is rarely seen. I suppose I can live with that in the era of Hi Neil as a salutation (and I am one who drops the (non-vocative) comma after Dear Sir or Madam and Yours truly – even in a formal letter).

There are times when the vocative comma is essential, however: I know Ali and I know, Ali mean different things (which should require no explanation).

On a related point, there is some ambiguity in placing the sign-off Thanks, John all on one line; only when the name appears below the Thanks is it clear that it means With thanks from John rather than Thank you to you, John (although actual confusion may not arise in practice).

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Did you know that the Gallop Portal (Government and Legislative Libraries Online Publications Portal) provides free and convenient access to almost 500,000 electronic government publications from all levels of Canadian government?

Launched five year ago by the Association of Parliamentary Libraries in Canada (APLIC), the portal is intended to provide Canadians with an easy way to access, connect, and interact with Canadian government resources.  Canadian Legislative and Parliamentary libraries are mandated to provide access to government documents by the Federal government’s Depository Services Program.

APLIC describes the portal as a “one-stop access point” to government publications.  Users can search for documents across jurisdiction and language using a variety of filtering options and a straightforward search interface.  The portal provides particularly high ease of use compared to other Canadian government websites.

We encourage you to check the Gallop Portal out at

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]


In the distant past, lawyers used to send printed client updates by mail. Those days are long gone. Then came e-mail, rapidly reaching the saturation point.

You don’t want to clog up your clients’ email in-boxes more than you need to, so push things their way through a brief and punchy blog post.

Blog posts can be published on your firm’s public website and also distributed to a phenomenally big audience through aggregators of online content like Lexology, Mondaq and JD Supra.

Novice blogger? Fear not: here are some tips.

Don’t write about the law; write about how the law affects the people you serve

  • Why should the reader care about this information?

A good way to think about blog writing is to consider it a proxy for speaking

  •  If you were asked about a particular topic in an elevator, what would you tell the person in 30 seconds?

To be engaging, your blog post should do some or all of the following:

  • educate, inspire or entertain
  • not be boring – no one wants a tedious and overly technical piece with dozens of footnotes
  • have a specific client (or type of client) in mind
  • share and initiate a conversation
  • introduce why the reader should read the post (online content is judged largely by its headline, especially when readers usually see a list of headlines in their feeds)
  • provide quick, practical information on how the content affects the reader
  • make the reader want to ask you for further information

Blog-writing is a way of sharing your personality

Additional resources to help you:

Next: euphemisms

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


The 9th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (better known as the McGill Guide) was published earlier this summer. The most important change was no longer requiring a parallel citation in addition to a neutral citation. While the guide tends to be the default for Canadian citation, several courts have slightly different citation requirements:

Susannah Tredwell


Did you know that you can receive instant notifications every time a new case is added to CanLII simply by subscribing to an RSS feed?  Would you like to monitor all new decisions from a particular level of court or administrative tribunal?  An RSS feed can do that for you.

RSS feeds deliver instant updates that inform you whenever a website is updated.  In CanLII’s case, they will alert you whenever a new decision is posted.

Our colleagues at the Law Society of Manitoba Library have put together an excellent guide that describes how to Create an Alert with CanLII.

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]


The latest in a continuing series.

Next time: guidance for the reluctant legal blogger

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Not hats: capital letters (or, in typographical parlance, upper case).

Don’t shout at people

When the interweb and e-mail were new, it took (some) people a while to figure out that typing your message all in caps is the typographical equivalent of shouting. Compare: please don’t forget to do this (gentle reminder) versus PLEASE DON’T FORGET TO DO THIS (angry, hectoring, perhaps a bit desperate, possibly crazy).

Used sparingly, capitals can be an effective way to express emphasis (especially if you’re not typing in HTML or rich text) – but the key word here is ‘sparingly’; if everything is emphasised, nothing is (the lawyer who cried ‘urgent’?). Or you look like you’re shouting.

 Proper names

That is, names of persons and places (Beyoncé, Tennessee), which always take an initial capital – unless done for typographical (or other) effect (the writers e.e. cummings, bpNichol and bell hooks come to mind).

 Sometimes proper names can lose their initial capital when they become disassociated with an actual place: you would not be wrong to write brussels sprout, french letter, french window, venetian blinds.


Old-fashioned usage is to go all out with capitals on these; it’s more modern to ease up (but I’m a fan of that officially capitalised T in Her Majesty The Queen).

When referring to a specific person by title, it may be better to use upper case: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, pleased welcome the Prime Minister of Canada!’

But when you’re using a job or other title as a generic description, the capitals can go: ‘When Sir John A. Macdonald was prime minister, there were less rigid rules about conflicts of interest’.

Similarly, it’s really not necessary to capitalise every routine instance of president, chair etc.  Or words like state or province, unless you’re referring to the government of the jurisdiction in a legal or technical sense: He was born in the state of Alabama but The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador has issued bonds.

It is not (or perhaps that should be NOT) necessary to use an upper-case J every time you write the title judge or justice. Yes, Justice Abella; but There are nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada and The judge gave brief oral reasons.

In the humanities and social sciences, capitals are disappearing from titles of books and articles (except for the first word and any proper names); it’s also generally regarded as better design to omit capitals in headings and headlines (the way I have in this tip up to this point). This may yet come to the law.


Periods were once de rigueur but now may be omitted for a cleaner look: ABA, FWB, LCBO, NAFTA, MP, Mr, QC, UK, USA, WTF etc.

 Capitals for Important Words

Please resist the temptation to slap a capital letter on a word as a form of emphasis: you run the risk of what was called, in an earlier GWWT, the Winnie-the-Pooh Effect (‘I have been I have been Foolish and Deluded … and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.’).

Next: confusing pairs, part 6

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


As mentioned earlier this year, CanLII has been adding secondary materials to its database. If you’re looking for recent articles from Canadian law journals, CanLII now offers access to sixteen journals:

  • Alberta Law Review
  • Appeal: Review of Current Law and Law Reform
  • Canadian Bar Review
  • Canadian Journal of Comparative and Contemporary Law
  • Canadian Journal of Human Rights
  • Canadian Law Library Review
  • Canadian Parliamentary Review
  • Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies
  • LawNow Magazine
  • Manitoba Law Journal
  • McGill Journal of Dispute Resolution
  • McGill Journal of Law and Health
  • McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law
  • Ottawa Law Review
  • University of New Brunswick Law Journal
  • Windsor Yearbook on Access to Justice

In addition to these journals and the CanLII Connects commentary, CanLII has added books, newsletters, and reports and research papers.

Susannah Tredwell