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Research Miscellanea: Everyone Researches

October 24, 2011 1 comment

After two posts about dictionaries you would think that the topic had been exhausted but not so. The new Bouvier Law Dictionary was  released this fall.  Despite its historical origins as the dictionary that was used by such legal luminaries as John Marshall, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln, the current version is  being advertised as the law dictionary for the modern student and has garnered praise for its usability.   It appears that author Steve Sheppard has been able to provide a comprehensive, yet concise dictionary that provides the user with detailed, yet clearly understood entries.  If you would like to judge for yourself, you can find the Bouvier Law Dictionary in our Reference collection, call number KF158.W65.

American University recently announced another new legal research resource.  The University is introducing a new online collection of international gender jurisprudence materials.  Working with the War Crimes Research Office,  American University’s Washington College of Law’s Women and International Law Program has developed a searchable  online database of documents culled from the War Crimes Research Office’s  Jurisprudence Collections, and will be developing digests of  key documents as well providing a forum for for expert commentaries.

“WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2011 – …. Reviewers have analyzed and cataloged more than 17,000 documents…., noting, for example, when evidence of sexual or gender-based violence appears in the record, when sexual or gender-based violence charges are brought, dropped, or dismissed, or when a defendant is tried for a crime of sexual or gender-based violence. The GJC features keyword and targeted search fields, which eliminate the need to sift through irrelevant documents when conducting research on the rapidly developing jurisprudence in these bodies….. To access the GJC and learn more about the project, please visit http://wcl.american.edu/go/gicl.  Please address any questions, comments, or suggestions to Alison Plenge, WCRO Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator, at genderjurisprudence@wcl.american.edu. ”

You cannot always count on that “perfect” legal research tool being available; sometimes it is up to you to do the hunting and gathering of information.  While everyone knows about LEXIS and Westlaw, everyone also knows about the cost.  Perhaps a visit to  Google Scholar  or even restricting your search further by using Advanced Scholar Search could meet your research needs for a lesser cost.  Basic Google Scholar provides a way to limit your searches to scholarly literature of all disciplines.  This is particularly helpful if you are conducting interdisciplinary research, or if want to search for news about legal and financial matters involving France and Paris without being bombarded with results featuring a vapid socialite.

Not the legal document that you were looking for!

There is a “Legal opinions and journals” section under Advanced Scholar Search that lets you  (logically enough) limit your searches  to legal opinions and journals,  and even to specific courts.  While a databases that lets you limit your searches by jurisdiction is not unique feature to legal researching, it IS unique when you do get billed for it.  If Google Scholar  sounds interesting to you, go to the Google homepage, click on the drop-down menu under “More” in the tool bar, and select “Scholar.”  After that, Google Scholar is yours to explore — and that’s hot.

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Breaking Bad (Habits)

I sometimes think there’s a cottage industry of criticizing student research habits, but to solve a problem you have to diagnose it first. You can’t steer students right until you know where they’re going wrong. An article reporting how students do – or don’t do – research has been gaining a lot of attention in academic circles in the last few weeks. The study underlying the article examined research patterns among Illinois undergraduates, focusing not on how they say they do research, but on how they actually do the research. Anthropologists observed students while researching and discussed the research with them afterward. The results have alarmed many in library and information literacy circles. Why?

  • Students relied heavily on Google. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but they were also using Google poorly. Rather than restricting themselves to sections like Google Scholar or Google Books, they used the basic interface that searches everything. Even when they used scholarly resources, students used “google-like” searching rather than using the tools and techniques the databases require for good results.
  • Students didn’t select the right scholarly resources for their information need – using databases that don’t provide current articles when they were specifically looking for something current, for example.
  • Perhaps most alarmingly, students failed to seek assistance from professional researchers who are at their disposal: librarians.

You may be wondering why I mention this. After all: you’re not an undergrad and very few of you are from Illinois. But it’s probably the case that the research patterns observed in this study reflect your undergraduate experience to some degree, and we’re all products of our past. It’s also true that as a student at Wake Forest School of Law you have a leg up: you are not trapped by your past research habits!

You have access to an experienced and well-trained library staff. Your research professor is a great place to start, whether you need help with a topic you’re covering in class, or with some research you’re doing for another purpose. But you’re not limited to their help; ask for information about what you can check out, or what’s on reserve, from the staff at the Circulation Desk. Ask substantive research questions from a librarian, staff or student assistant at the Reference Desk. And know that – while you may never encounter them – there is a “hidden” staff called the Technical Services department. They’re the ones who make sure books are on the shelves and links in the catalog work.

You have access to the best research systems for legal research, and that goes beyond Lexis and Westlaw. Databases like BNA and CCH are tailored to areas of law represented by these publishers; they have secondary sources like treatises and “looseleafs” that don’t appear on Lexis and Westlaw. You also have access to specialized databases like ProQuest Congressional (great for legislative history), Treaties & International Agreements Online (just what it sounds like!), and RIA Checkpoint (fantastic for tax)… not to mention all the subject-specific resources available through the Z. Smith Reynolds Library! You have so much at your fingertips, and librarians can help you learn to use each of these, and more.

As a 1L, you’re given explicit and detailed instruction in research techniques that go far beyond Googling, and as upper level students you can get even more specific research instruction in areas like Tax and Administrative law, as well as a broad Advanced Legal Research class. You should walk out of any of these classes knowing how to think about research, how to select the right tools, and how to use tools to get the information you need. You should also have picked up some habits like keeping good notes to track your research.

If all of this is old news to you – congratulations! Keep up the good work. But if you’ve gotten this far with bad research habits, don’t worry. Research is a skill, and it takes practice. You can learn good habits. If you’re not sure where to start, you have to flail around! Ask for help – a quick email, call or stop by the library may be all it takes to get you off on the right track.

E-Mail Alerts Now Available from Google Scholar

May 13, 2010 Comments off

From The Resource Shelf blog:

Until now, Google Scholar users had to use a variety of methods to create alerts to notify them of new content in Google Scholar. Well, the wait is over and as of this weekend, Google Scholar E-Mail Alerts are now available. It’s Google, of course they’re free.

Alerts appear to work with all three content options:
A) “Traditional” Google Scholar Content (with patents or without patents)
B) Legal Documents and Journals.

There is also a feature that allows you to create alerts each time there is a new citation to an article in which you’re interested.

Because alerts are to find new material (independent of publication date) that has just “entered” the database, the date range limits do not work. You also can’t create an alert for only a source (at least at this time).

And the good news is that you don’t have to have a gmail account for the alerts–any email address will work.

Google Scholar Legal

March 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Google Scholar now has a full text database of U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme court decisions available.  You can search by case name or by topics.  You can also search for legal journal articles.  You can read their official announcement here.