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All Our Research Tips

Often, I write with too many commas.  A comma is a beautiful thing, in fact, all punctuation is necessary for readers to understand a piece of text. Just ask the  Associated Press who sent this punctuation-less tweet:

BREAKING: Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.

Then there was a clarification:

CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.

Today’s Tip: Think about your legal research responses.  Are you missing a comma?


First let me say that I really like reading on screen for business purposes.  Second, let me contradict that by complaining about my aged eyes and how I keep pulling my monitors closer to my face. Third, let me tell you how much I enjoy reading novels in print when that is a viable alternative (not traveling, my public library has a print copy without waiting for an inter-library loan). Fourthly, let me give a hat tip to John DiGilio who noted a post on that inspired Today’s Tip.

Scientific American looked at some studies comparing paper vs. screen reading and concluded that “when it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage.”

My take on paper vs. screen when doing legal research is totally unscientific.  When skimming through research results I like to use the navigation of seeing my terms highlighted, changing the sort order of results and quickly jumping past irrelevant hits to the next document.  When digesting the now selected content, if documents are long, I sometimes choose to print and read from paper.

Today’s Tip: be aware of how you interact with text and make conscious decisions about how you need to work.


Some of the high use items linked from our firm’s intranet are calculators.  I am not talking about the e-quivalent of a device that helps find the square root of 9*, but rather tools that help calculate things for context.

We have tipped you previously on calculating present value and currency calculators but we haven’t talked about date calculators.

Time and Date AS is a Norwegian LLC that gives people free time and date related information and services via  This site offers multiple points of assistance including a date calculator that lets you add or subtract days, weeks,  months or years from a date.

Do you use any groovy (preferably no cost) tools that you would like to share with research tip readers? Click on Submit a Tip in the footer to share.

*The square root of 9 is 3 – did that math using my brain: another calculator!


A post by Lynn Foley last week provided the inspiration for today’s tip.

Lynn asked Slawyers to consider what their clients perceive as value using the lens of the ACC Value Challenge. I ask Slaw Tips research readers to consider how the discrete piece of legal research they are doing adds value for the client.

One of the most important skills a legal researcher can bring to a project is the ability to focus on the question they are trying to answer. There are a ton of information sources available that any question can be filtered through, so the value part of research is knowing which parts of that ton should be set aside and which must be reviewed in order to fully answer the question without doing extra steps that are unnecessary and occasionally costly.

Today’s tip: stay focused on the question you are researching to add value.


I like to think I know about all kinds of sources – partly because I usually remember what I share.  Sometimes I just miss things though. Today’s Tip could come with the Beatles as the background music:

I get by with a little help from my friends

Thanks to my new colleague Josette McEachern, who posted on the Edmonton Law Libraries Association Blog, I now know that there is an open and free version of the Income Tax Act Annotated provided by Lexum.

Check it out


Today’s tip is a quick reminder to think about the British/Canadian and US spellings and how that might affect your search string.

offence = offense

Offense in CanLII finds 227Alberta Appeal court decisions.
Offence in CanLII finds 4433 Alberta Appeal court decisions.

Happy Wednesday!



The very first Research Tip on this blog was about reading the URL.  That advice is the same today as it was back in January 2011.  Understanding ‘where’ on the web you are getting information from is a useful skill.

Dan has written about phishing and there is a a good twist on Lifehacker that discusses how to boost your phishing detection skills.  The skill set boils down to reading the URL and being aware of where you are vs. where you want to be.

What does this have to do with legal research? Reading a URL and understanding where the information you are gathering is posted is important.  Is that decision you found through a link sitting on a website that you can safely cite to? Is it a Scribd item added to a news article? Aare you looking at something that has been uploaded for a purpose? Is the decision part of the course material from a law school open casebook?  In what context is it being offered up?

Reading the URL is a good information gatehring practice. Today’s Tip: glance up and to the left and take note of the web address. Look to your status bar before clicking on a hyperlink that will take you down a research path that is not useful to you.


One of the things that we teach at Head Start* programs is how to limit searching to the most relevant set of data that will lead quickly to an answer. Today’s Tip is to remember that a data set limit might be a jurisdiction, court level or date range or it could be deciding to look first to digests of cases rather than a full text source.

A student recently asked how many cases to use in a memo to illustrate his research findings.  My response: only as many as you need to show binding or if not binding then persuasive authority to support your point.  Limiting initial case law searching to sources of binding authority is a good step for a first sweep on an issue. Who knows – you may find an appropriate answer right away.

We also remind searchers in Head Start programs that a caselaw search isn’t the first step, but that is a tip that we have alluded to many times before.

* Head Start programs are legal research refresher seminars that are offered to articling students in various communities – see the upcoming CALL/ACBD Webinar on the SWOT of Law Library Head Start Programs for more information.


With Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation coming into force on July 1, 2014, you may have noticed an increasing number of “confirm your email” opt in messages. Though there is a transition period where consent to receive commercial electronic messages is implied, most organizations are getting their express consent ducks in a row.

Today’s Tip is to be list conscious…or more practically, think really hard before you decide to unsubscribe.

Personally, I am making sure that legal publishers I deal with are able to send me email. Though there are plenty of ways to stay up to date on new publications and you may think of the ‘new book’ emails as being the most frequent publisher sent commercial electronic messages, publishers sent emails about all kinds of important things that you want to know.

  • planned outages for electronic products
  • new formats for existing works
  • changes to pricing
  • notices about mergers and new content

Be list conscious so that you are not out of the loop.

If the number of commercial electronic messages are getting on your last nerve, consider Slawyer Jack Newton’s Email Pro Tip #1 Create a “Robots” Folder and only look at your CEMs once a day.


When you are citing a web resource, provide the URL – the whole URL that links directly to the document you are referencing.

What am I talking about? As an example, when you cite a federal regulation, you identify it with the SOR number not the page  number of the issue of the Canada Gazette that the regulation came from. The URL reference should be equally as direct in my opinion.  A hyperlink or URL that points to the SOR – in this case the HTML version of the individual regulation from the Gazette website – not the PDF link for the more general Gazette issue the SOR is published in.

What does the NEW 8th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation say about online resources? It agrees with me!

Cite the full URL of the source, but exclude the http:// protocol. Include the protocol if it is anything else (for
example https://).

The McGill Guide, as this title is often referred to, is now available as an online publication hosted on WestlawNext Canada as well as being available in print and print plus online pricing formats. A screen shot of part of a download* from 8th edition, Online Resources section offers the general rules:


* Thanks to Carswell Reference Support for providing the McGill Guide 8th edition sample.