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This is part 2 of a series on questions you should ask about any electronic research source.  See part 1 of this series here.

2. What constitutes a RECORD?

What are the individual things the database consists of?

Some case law databases, like Saskatchewan Cases or the Canadian Abridgment, consist of summaries or digests. Others, like CanLII, consist of primary law – judgments and legislation. In others, such as the case law components of Quicklaw and WestlawNext, you can search a combination of summaries and full-text documents. Knowing if you are searching a short summary or full-text decision is very important in formulating your search.

The Saskatchewan Bills database has a unique scope. Each record constitutes a Saskatchewan statute that was affected – created, amended, or repealed – by a Saskatchewan bill. So note that although the database is called “Bills,” the individual records are not bills but statutes, as they were affected by the bills. Thus, there will be a separate record each time a statute is amended, and separate records for each statute affected by single bill. This sounds a bit complicated, but users of the database will agree that there is tremendous advantage to this structure when conducting statutory research.

Coming soon: part 3!

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


Openings and closing of business correspondence, that is.

My father, an old-fashioned lawyer if there ever was one, once said there are only two ways to start and close a business letter: either Dear Sir/Yours faithfully or Dear Mr So-and-so/Yours truly, depending on one’s level of acquaintance with the recipient. (And not very truly: one is true or one is not, no more no less.)

There is a certain simplicity to that, and it can be made female-friendly without difficulty. My own views follow.

Younger folk appear to have this strange view that ‘Dear’ at the start of a letter somehow suggests an affectionate relationship is being claimed.

Dear Sir is a little warmer than just Sir, but it’s by no means touchy-feely (Dear Sir, Your account now being considerably in arrears, …). That said, Dear may look a bit old-fashioned in a more casual e-mail, where Hello Neil or Hi Neil seems largely to have displaced Dear Neil. I would confine the hi and hello business to purely casual exchanges, however, and inject more formality into an e-mail message that contains considered legal advice.

Dear Mary in a business letter? If you want – but a more elegant way to do it is to type Dear Ms Wang, cross that out in pen and write in her first name. In England, it’s usual in business letters to leave out the salutation and the Yours truly bit entirely, leaving blank space which the writer fills in by hand, with whatever degree of formality seems appropriate.

If you are at the Dear Sir level, the female equivalent is Madam. Not Madame – although the plural of Madam (in this context) is Mesdames not Madams (which is the plural form for women who run brothels).

One sometimes used to see Gentlemen as a substitute for (Dear) Sirs in letters addressed to a firm in general (typically, opinion letters). The gender-neutral equivalent really should be Dear Sirs and Mesdames; the formulation Ladies and Gentlemen that people sometimes use has (to me, anyway) an air of the circus tent to it (Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! the greatest show on earth!).

I think my father is correct that these should be on the formal side. Save (Yours) sincerely for social correspondence.

And, if I could, I would banish regards of all sorts (kind, warm, best, fond, whatevs). You’re never going to send regards that are unkind, lukewarm, worst, not quite best – and is it really necessary to send them in the first place? I confess, though, that I do sometimes add Best wishes or just Best if the e-mail needs to sound a bit friendlier – but I cringe inwardly while doing it. For a compelling case to omit all of this sort of stuff, see this article by Rebecca Greenfield of Bloomberg Business.

Similarly, avoid worn-out and meaningless phrases like Please do not hesitate to contact me … The reader may well be inclined to think ‘of course I won’t hesitate – what sort of shrinking violet does she think I am?’ – or alternatively, ‘I’ll hesitate if I bloody well want to; you charge by the hour and I’ll only get in touch if necessary, since everything is on the clock.’ Either way, it’s useless.

Always include a standard signature block in e-mails that are going to external parties. It’s useful to include relevant professional information, like links to your LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed.

Beginnings and endings
I don’t put a comma after Yours truly and the like. I also omit one (or a colon) after Dear So-and-so at the top of a letter. More modern, cleaner typographically, no loss of sense.

Next time: you can quote me

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


One difficulty with finding labour arbitration decisions is a lack of uniformity in the style of cause; sometimes the union’s name may be fully spelled out, other times it may be abbreviated, or it may be omitted altogether and the name of the griever used. As a result, it can be faster to find a decision by searching by arbitrator’s name and the dates rather than the party names.

CanLII, Quicklaw and WestlawNext all carry labour arbitration decisions, although their coverage varies. You can find them in the following databases:



  • All Labour Arbitration Awards database


There are two types of labour arbitration decisions: grievance arbitrations and interest arbitrations. Grievance arbitration is “a mechanism to resolve disputes about the interpretation and application of a collective agreement during the term of that agreement” whereas interest arbitration refers to “a mechanism to renew or establish a new collective agreement for parties without the right to strike/lock-out”.

Section 59 of the Canada Labour Code states “A copy of every order or decision of an arbitrator or arbitration board shall be filed with the Minister by the arbitrator or arbitration board chairperson and shall be available to the public in circumstances prescribed by the Governor in Council.” However, this only applies to grievance arbitrations and there does not appear to be an equivalent requirement for interest arbitrations under section 79 of the CLC.

Similarly, section 96 of British Columbia’s Labour Relations Code states that “An arbitration board must, within 10 days of issuing an award, file a copy of it with the director who must make the award available for public inspection.” British Columbia’s Collective Agreement Arbitration Bureau then forwards the decision to various agencies for public access.

Susannah Tredwell


Oh, so many of these – but I’ll mention just a few (for now).

Can not
No. It’s one word in modern English: cannot. And when you say it, the emphasis is generally on the first syllable.

Spell-check thinks this always has to be one word. It doesn’t. As a single word, it means ‘former’: Bob Sharpe, sometime dean of law at U. of T., is now on the Ontario Court of Appeal. But Let’s have coffee some time and At some time in the future, we’ll see … (I acknowledge, however, that current usage may be against me on this.)

Outside of
Drop the of! It’s unnecessary and incorrect. So just this: outside the house, outside Canada, outside the realm of possibility etc. Same goes for inside.

The reason is because …
No! The reason is that… Always, always, always.

A couple things
Wrong! It must be A couple of things (even though you would correctly say a few things—who said English was regular?)

As in, Should we meet prior?  A construction I’m hearing a lot, and one that is irritating me. Prior here needs to be followed by to and something more (prior to doing XYZ). If you’re tempted to use prior on its own, substitute earlier, before or previously.

As an adjective, prior is fine (prior testimony), but remember that good old rule of thumb that a word with Anglo-Saxon roots (like earlier or before) is more forceful and direct than one that comes to us through Latin or French (like prior or previous). To give you an example, compare the fancy, Latinate words copulate and defecate with their one-syllable Anglo-Saxon equivalents. The latter certainly pack more of a punch.

Consider it to be X/find it to be X
This isn’t actually wrong, but it’s inelegant. Better just to find something X.  I find him boring has a better ring than I find him to be boring, no?

Take off the final L. And it’s fulfilment. Only two Ls in wilful too.

Did you want milk or cream with that?
I did want milk, and I still do. Or maybe I’ve changed my mind.

Or maybe you should use the conditional (Would you like milk or cream?) or the present tense (Do you want …) instead of this weird, incorrect use of the past tense.

Don’t even get me started on its annoying use as meaningless filler in speech, particularly by those under 30.

What I hate in a written context is like in the past, like in the movies, like in the recent decision, like I said. What you mean is as not like. Reserve like for like me, like a virgin and the like (like plus noun or pronoun without a verb attached, or an adverb like so).

Next time: beginnings and endings

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Whenever you set out to use any electronic research source, be it a public web search or a specialized database, there are a few questions you should always ask – four to be exact. You may say there are really five or six important questions, or maybe you think there are only three, and that’s ok. But for me, not three but four is the magic number.

So here are my four questions you should always ask, with examples drawn from some of our favourite databases.

1. What is the SCOPE of the database?

Or what is its reach? How would you describe the collection of documents? What topics are covered? How current, how far back in time? What is the geographic extent of the database and what languages are used?

For an Internet search engine such as Google, the scope is all documents within the reach of its automated web-crawling indexer. But for most sites, the scope is limited by subject, geography, &/or time. For some, such as our Saskatchewan Cases database, the user should have a pretty good idea, based on the title, that the scope is limited by geography and subject matter. But what about time? For that we have a scope note conveniently located in the lower-right corner of the search page. For a complex system of databases like CanLII, the scope note is myriad.

For some online services, such as our Find a Lawyer search, the scope is rigorously monitored and crucial to the database’s usefulness. There is one record for every active (practicing) member of the Law Society of Saskatchewan. It is updated instantly. If a record exists, then that person is an active, licensed lawyer in Saskatchewan. If there is no record, then that individual is retired, suspended, inactive, or otherwise not a currently practicing lawyer in the province.

Stayed tuned for question #2!

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


This week, you get a full colonic!

Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

Actually, full treatment of this subject is beyond the scope of a brief piece, but here are some basics.

The colon (:)
The colon is most frequently used to introduce a list of items, but it can often be omitted. There is no need for a colon in the following sentence:

The syndicate of lenders consists of: Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia and TD.

The colon is correctly used after the word ‘sentence’ just before the example; it introduces what is to follow, where that doesn’t just flow naturally from the earlier part of the sentence. As H.W. Fowler put it, the colon ‘delivers the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words.’

The colon can also be used to great effect in what Fowler calls ‘gnomic contrasts’. For example:

Man proposes: God disposes.

Do this sparingly: over-use dulls the effect.

The colon can also be used to introduce a quotation, generally where the context is not conversational (The witness stated: ‘Blah blah blah’.).

The semi-colon (;)
Also used with lists, but to separate items that have internal commas. Like so (assuming for the moment that we’re still using 1990s names and punctuation):

The following firms were represented: Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt; Stikeman, Elliott; and Blake, Cassels and Graydon.

Confusion might arise if the semi-colons were absent (and you didn’t know which names went with which). Note the effective use of a ‘serial’ or ‘Oxford’ semicolon before and; but where this isn’t necessary in the interests of clarity, I’d omit it.

The semi-colon can also be used to break up long, convoluted sentences that contain lots of subordinate clauses and commas – but it’s doubtful that you want to write in a prose style reminiscent of a nineteenth-century novelist, right?

A good use of the semi-colon is to connect two units which could be separate sentences, but which are logically linked. Using a comma would make this a run-on sentence (which is bad):

I couldn’t think of a single thing to say; situations like that leave me at a loss for words.

The bit after the semi-colon doesn’t so much complete the thought in the first part as explain or describe it. The semi-colon offers a softer and less abrupt break than a colon; it’s only half a colon, after all.

Next week: miscellaneous little things that annoy me

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


This article was originally published in the November 2016 edition of Wired West.

At the recent 2016 SLA conference in Philadelphia, one of the most popular sessions was Hidden Treasures: Mastering Grey Literature. This session was co-sponsored by the Science-Technology Division, the Social Science Division, and the Taxonomy Division. A panel of speakers from institutions such as Cornell University and the Canadian Library of Parliament spoke about their favourite sources for grey literature. Inspired by that presentation, we have assembled here a very Canadian primer on grey literature.

For the uninitiated, Wikipedia offers a very accessible definition for this field of literature:

Grey literature … are materials and research produced by organizations outside of the  traditional commercial or academic publishing and distribution channels. Common grey literature publication types include reports (annual, research, technical, project, etc.), working papers, government documents, white papers and evaluations. Organizations that produce grey literature include government departments and agencies, civil society or non-governmental organisations, academic centres and departments, and private companies and consultants.

Grey literature may be made available to the public, or distributed privately within organizations or groups, and may lack a systematic means of distribution and collection. The standard of quality, review and production of grey literature can vary considerably. Grey literature may be difficult to discover, access and evaluate but this can be addressed through the formulation of sound search strategies. (Wikipedia)

In our own work, we have had ample opportunity to help clients dive deep into research topics through grey literature. Grey literature can be especially important when the client has budgetary constraints and limited access to specialized subscription-based databases. It can also be helpful when addressing either a very old or very new topic. New topics may not yet have been addressed by academic journals due to the long lead time required for vetting and publication. Older topics may no longer be addressed by current publications on the topic and relevant commentary may only be available through digitization of archived materials

We provide a short list of our favourite sources here:

Social Sciences Research Network
The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is an open repository “devoted to the rapid worldwide dissemination of social science research.” It includes a wide range of free content, including abstracts for working papers and forthcoming papers, article preprints, and conference papers. SSRN is comprised of twenty-four research networks representing various branches of the social sciences—accounting, law, leadership, marketing, and political science, to name just a few. The Network was acquired by Elsevier in May 2016, but insists it remains committed to keeping content free to submit and download.

Google or Google Scholar
Google has the ability to capture high-value commentary that may not be published elsewhere. Increasingly professionals and academics are being encouraged to blog about their topics both as a way of spreading knowledge and engaging in business development. For example, the Cornell LII blogs and offer academic and lawyerly commentary on current events intersecting with the law.
The academic offshoot of Google, Google Scholar, is a rich source of grey literature from government agencies, professional societies, digital repositories, and post-secondary institutions. While access to some full text content is restricted by publisher paywalls, the “all versions” feature can help researchers locate related working papers, article pre-prints, and the like. Researchers may find Google Scholar less helpful for recently published materials, as its algorithms tend to favour older content.

Federal Government White Papers and Green Papers
White papers are official documents presented by Ministers which explain the government’s policy on a certain issue. In contrast, green papers are issued by government to invite public comment on an issue prior to policy formulation. These two terms are also used interchangeably at the provincial level. This federal repository managed by the Library of Parliament includes links to PDFs of many of the papers and fulsome indexing information at the very least. For equivalent papers issued at the provincial level, there is no one repository, however searching via GALLOP, listed below, is a good first step.

GALLOP Federated Search Portal
GALLOP is a federated search portal covering provincial legislature libraries, such as BC’s Legislative Library. The scope of coverage is detailed here. Many of these libraries include download links to PDFs of some materials in their collections. Materials held by these libraries often include reports relevant to public policy or government-authored documents about the implementation of public policy.

University Repositories, Such as cIRcle at the University of British Columbia
cIRcle is described as “an open access digital repository for published and unpublished material created by the UBC community and its partners. Its aim is to showcase and preserve UBC’s unique intellectual output by making content freely available to anyone, anywhere via the web.” You can search the repository using the search box in the middle of the homepage, or from the advanced search form, here. During the SLA conference session on this topic, Jim Del Russo of Cornell University Library also shared this link to DigitalCommons@ILR, the repository at Cornell.

The sources we’ve listed above are an excellent starting point for a Canadian librarian or researcher; however, should you need to engage in international grey literature searches, we encourage you to consult a university research guide on grey literature from the country or area in question. For example, the University of New Mexico offers a grey literature lib guide with an american health sciences emphasis, while Curtin University in Perth, Australia offers an Australia-specific guide to grey literature. Another good all-purpose American lib guide on grey literature is this one, from the University of Michigan.

by Bronwyn Guiton & Lindsay Tripp


The humble comma seems to baffle many. Space doesn’t permit full discussion of the subject (you may be relieved to hear), but here are some pointers.

If you’ve ever read a contract or a will drafted by an English solicitor, you’ll have noticed the complete lack of commas (omitted because they can be the source of ambiguity or error, as the cases attest*). Read that English document aloud, and you’ll be left breathless: no pauses.

The basic rule is that a comma should be inserted wherever there is a natural pause for the reader. Don’t overdo it, though: too many commas make things choppy. Lawyerly writing definitely suffers from excessive use of commas.

Use a comma to separate independent clauses joined by a conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet): The plaintiff was severely injured in the accident, but the limitation period has now expired.

Use a comma to set off information that is useful but non-essential or in some way extra (it could be removed and the sentence would still make sense): The comma is, of course, a useful thing or The plaintiff, who has suffered multiple injuries, is unable to perform basic tasks.

Separate items in a list with a comma (or a semi-colon, if individual items within the list contain internal commas).

But, you ask, is there a comma (sometimes called a ‘serial’ or  ‘Oxford’ comma) before the ‘and’ (or ‘or’) preceding the final item in the list? In the USA, generally; in the UK, generally not. Take your pick, but I tend (as in most things) to go with the Brits. That final comma looks fussy and a bit cluttered.

Sometimes it’s useful, though. This sentence could use a second comma, methinks: This book is dedicated to my parents, Margaret Thatcher and God. Ambiguities could also arise where a list is longer and more complicated.

The comma defines and limits. I asked my brother Ed for help and I asked my brother, Ed, for help mean different things. The first means I have brothers other than Ed; the second, only one brother, and he’s called Ed.

Commas are also used to separate multiple adjectives describing a noun: She drove a little, red Corvette. The comma drops out, however, if the final adjective is an integral part of the noun that follows: The birdwatcher spotted a beautiful bald eagle (unless it was lovely and had no feathers on its head).

Don’t separate what should not be separated – like subject and verb, or verb and object/complement. This is wrong: The thing is, that … [worse: adding another is before that]. And so is this: Many Somalis have termed the 2015 election, historic (from, 25 October 2015; the comma must go).

The comma does connect, but beware the run-on sentence, which (incorrectly) splices two independent sentences with a comma. Don’t do this: I am sending you this article, I thought you would find it interesting. Instead of that comma, you need a semi-colon, a period or a word like ‘because’.

This is correct: He said, “I disagree”, and then went on to add, “but I won’t argue the point with you.” Use a comma before quoted speech (or a colon, although that wouldn’t work in the example just given because of the structure of the remaining part of the sentence). Put punctuation outside the quotation marks unless it’s actually part of the quotation (the final period is, the comma after ‘disagree’ may or may not be). In the USA, it’s usual to put all punctuation inside the quotation marks, but this is not desirable.

Next: colons and semi-colons

*Some expensive comma cases:

Osmium Shipping Corp v Cargill International SA, [2012] EWHC 571 (Comm)

Telecom Decision CRTC 2006-45

AMJ Campbell Inc v Kord Products Inc (2003) 63 OR (3d) 375

Coyote Portable Storage LLC v PODS Enterprises Inc (2011) 85 Fed R Ev Serv 459, 2011 WL 1870593

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Administrator’s note: thanks to Karen Sawatzky for this guest tip!

Today’s tip is courtesy of Melanie Bueckert, legal researcher extraordinaire at the Manitoba Court of Appeal via Brian Roach, articling student at Tapper Cuddy LLP.

The Research Log (well deserving of its capitalization) is a deceptively simple template that forces the legal researcher to document all sources consulted and note what about that source was of importance. You can also include anything that wasn’t important so you know not to review it again. If used properly, your research memo practically writes itself. I can vouch for its usefulness – the first time I used it, my memo flew off its pages. It’s a simple, three column document:

research log

I now open one for every memo I write. If I need to return to the topic, I have a draft of what my process was, so I can get up to speed quickly. It always amazes me that sometimes the simplest idea is pure genius. Thanks Melanie and Brian, for showing this to me.

Karen Sawatzky, Tapper Cuddy LLP
Library Technican Dialog


Not things you did as a teenager that you’d rather forget about, but past tenses of verbs that continue to cause people trouble.

The past tense of this verb is not dove. That’s a bird, mispronounced. The past tense is dived (or should be – the Yanks differ on this one).

Lay and lie
A confusing pair. From last time:


As in lead me astray. The past tense (and past participle) is led. Similarly, mislead and misled.

Confusion may arise because these two don’t follow the same pattern as read, which is the same in the past and present tenses: I read the last chapter of the book last night; I always read in bed before I go to sleep.

American usage to the contrary, the past tense is not pled or plead: it’s pleaded. Always.

Honey, you shrank the kids! Now that they have shrunk they will need new clothes in smaller sizes for their shrunken bodies.

And it’s drink, drank, drunk(en); sink, sank, sunk(en); spring, sprang, sprung; stink, stank, stunk (although in colloquial speech one hears stunk as the past tense as well as the past participle; there’s that song about the Grinch).

It isn’t think, thank, thunk, though – except in the jocular Who’d have thunk?

The past tense is not snuck but sneaked.

The past isn’t spit – it’s spat. Same deal if you replace the p with an h.

Up next: comma conundrums

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)