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Research Journal

A research journal is a recording of the secondary sources you have consulted and the results of
your research. Research projects are often spread over days or weeks. Without notes, is impossible
to remember all of the steps taken. Your notes in your research journal are an important record of
the steps you took in researching a problem. Sometimes the person who assigned the research task
will want to see your checklist and notes so that they can evaluate the thoroughness of your

You should keep track of:
(a) which secondary sources you consulted (and when),
(b) the finding aids and search terms you used,
(c) the primary sources of law you locate, and
(d) the results of updating and noting up your primary sources of law.

Source: LAW 110  Coursebook 2017-18, p. 174


Planning your legal research

Once you have a handle on what your legal problem is you can plan your research accordingly.

The depth and focus of your plan will likely vary depending on the issues and your familiarity with the subject area.

Start with secondary materials

Start with secondary sources – discussions of the law – to get a grounding on the developed law and an idea of relevant legislation and leading cases on your topic. You'll find detail on secondary sources, including help in finding them, in the next section of this guide.

Legal dictionaries, legal encyclopedias, textbooks, annotated statutes, law reform commission reports, websites and blogs are all examples of secondary materials. Include these steps in your plan:

  • Record the titles and dates of the material you look at
  • Note down any legislation and cases that look relevant
  • Make note of any potential keywords of search terms you come across

Identify relevant primary materials

Legislation is often the first primary source to consider as many legal research problems centre on the interpretation of legislation. Statutes, regulations and by-laws are all examples of legislation. Your research plan should include these steps:

  • Write down the names of any potentially relevant legislation you are already aware of
  • Add other legislation to this list as you conduct your research
  • Update your legislation for currency
  • Research your legislation for judicial interpretation

The other key primary source is case law. Be sure to pay attention to court level and jurisdiction. Your research plan should include these steps:

  • Consider any leading cases you already know about for this issue
  • Add other important cases to this list as you research secondary sources
  • Add any cases you uncover as you note up legislation for judicial treatment
  • Update or research the history of your cases for currency
  • Note up your key cases for judicial treatment
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