Learning to Keep a Proper Research Record

Author: Benjamin Ramsden, UVic Law Student, Advanced Legal Research and Writing Guest Blogger

The Importance of Keeping a Record

When I registered for ALRW I thought the most important improvement in my research skills would relate to finding and locating relevant legal materials. However, learning to keep a detailed record of my research has been the most valuable skill I’ve developed.

I kept a record in the past but I didn’t give too much importance to it and it tended to be recorded a bit haphazardly. I kept track of the relevant cases, statutes, and principles I came across but did not keep a detailed record of search terms I used or the sources where I found information.

I can see now that maintaining a detailed record is important for ensuring that research is comprehensive and thorough. Keeping a detailed and organized research record has also saved me time. I no longer duplicate research as I sometimes did in the past.

Below are some of the strategies I’ve found useful while maintaining my research record:

  • Facts and Issues: Summarizing facts and issues helps to guide my research throughout the process. Having the facts and issues on the first page of my research record keeps my research focused as it is always in front of me to reference.
  • List of Key Words: Keeping a list of all the key words I use makes searches on legal databases more efficient as I always have the words in front of me. Keeping a list also ensures I canvass all the necessary issues in my searches.
  • Separating Issues: Separating the legal issues in the case allows me to keep my research organized and thorough and helps me to go through all the necessary research steps for each issue. This prevents me from confusing issues.
  • Listing Search Results Under Research Sources: It’s very useful to split up my record by source of information and then list all my findings by their citations under the source. This allows me to track how I find relevant materials. When I find that I am getting the same answers from different sources I also get an idea of when I can wind down my research on a legal issue.
  • Recording Citations of Useful Cases and Statutes: Whenever I come across a potentially useful case or statute I record the citation. This allows me to return to cases quickly and prevents me from duplicating my research. Next to each citation I also like to put a few lines explaining the significance of the case or statute to my issue.
  • Recording Principles About Issues: I find it useful to keep key legal principles I have discovered for each issue on a separate page. This page can be used as an outline for framing my legal analysis and arguments once I am ready to begin writing.
  • Keeping a Copy of Relevant Passages and Statutory Provisions: I keep a separate document with relevant passages and quotes I find that will be useful when conducting my legal analysis. Keeping this information separate from my main research record keeps my record easy to follow and organized. I find that if I put too much information on the record itself my research gets bogged down and I can lose track of the ‘big picture’.

Far From Perfect

I know I still have much to improve as I feel like I’m just beginning to organize and conduct my research properly. I look forward to continuing to improve my organizational and research skills and I’m especially interested in learning from my peers about strategies that they have found useful in improving their research.


  1. Pierre-Paul Lemyre


    Lexum would be very interested to get your feedback about Lexbox https://mylexbox.com. We developed it specifically to help legal practitioners keep a record of their online legal research. I invite you to have a look and let us know what you think are its strengths and limitations.

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