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Legal Research Guide: Study and Research

Study and Research

Research Strategy Template

Use the Research Strategy Template to organise your legal research.

- Databases searched
    - Filters used
- Search words
- Search strings
- Resources sourced - legislation, cases, articles - supporting your argument

Cite / reference ALL information at the time of sourcing.

Assignment Schedule

RMIT's Assignment Planner or Studiosity's Assignment Calculator keep you on track with milestones and timelines.

The Library's Assignment Help Guide will assist with organising your assignment.

Task list generators such as To-do, or Trello are useful for group assignments.

Work Output Timelines

Create timelines for each Unit to keep a track of your workload and assist with prioritising your workload.

Timelines can be easily created in an Excel spreadsheet.

Post It Notes are just as effective!


Use the interactive resources on the Academic Skills Unit on LMS to improve your academic reading, critical thinking, research, writing and presentation skills.

Use learning tools, such as Quizlet, to organise your course work and notes in preparation for your research.

For guidance on how to develop a good search strategy and technique see:

Legal Research Process:

1.  Develop a writing plan
    what issues must specifically be addressed, answered or included
    mind map your plan

2.  Develop a search strategy
   determine search words
   list synonyms
   create search strings for searching databases - use Boolean connectors
   determine which databases to search

  TIP: Read a legal encyclopaedia, or journal, article, to identify additional search terms

3.  Manage time and resources
   Record all resources, including quotations and their page numbers

4.  Reference

   TIP: Ensure your reference complies with the Australian Guide to Legal Citation rules when you first access the resource (in Step 3.)
   - don't leave your referencing until the last minute.  
   Use the AGLC Referencing Style Guide for easy citation.

Note Making

Structure your notes with headings, subheadings and lists. 
Use headings to indicate topic areas or to include bibliographic details of the sources of information.
Use outline form and/or a numbering system and indenting to help you distinguish major from minor points and as a clear way of indicating the structure of lecture information.

Underline, circle, star, highlight, key information, examples, definitions, important facts.
Devise your own marking code to use consistently.

Write phrases and key points.
Don't write verbatim transcripts.
Hand writing notes aids memory retention and encourages paraphrasing (making you think and understand concepts)

Include reference details.
Include reference details for further research or to cite in open book exams.
These can be added after the lecture from the PPT or recording.


More help with note making:

Magdalinski, Tara, Study skills for sports studies (Taylor and Francis, 2013) ch 3 Making Notes from Lectures and Readings 

How to take notes and study smarter

my Murdoch Peer Academic Coaches (PAC) can help with:

  • getting started at university
  • academic skills (reading, writing, planning, maths, stats and time-management)
  • discipline-based skills and questions
  • navigating the learning management system
  • planning an assignment (e.g. essay, report, etc.)
  • referencing
  • understanding academic integrity and discourse.

Boolean Operators must be ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.

Universal Operators


2 or more words anywhere in document

case AND law

the word case as well as the word law anywhere in the document


1 or more words anywhere in document

case OR law

either the word case or the word law anywhere in the document

"   "

phrase search

"case law"

the words case law next to each other in that order

(   )

group words together

 (case OR law) AND evidence

     either the word case or the word law anywhere in the document, as well as the word evidence     


Order of priority :   (  ), OR,  PROXIMITY,  AND   

Searches are processed by brackets first, then from left to right - so place most important terms first.


  AustLII CCH iKnowConnect  CINAHL Gale
HeinOnline  i-law Informit Jade JSTOR


Newsbank Ovid Oxford


Scopus   Thomson
Westlaw Classic
Web of Science   Westlaw Australia


1st word within n words of 2nd word

case /5 law

case within 5 words of law,
any order











case law~5


only works in
Advanced Search
when searching
for single







specifies order
of search words
and proximity


(n-1 so ADJ5
searches for
both terms
and up to
4 terms
between them) 



n5 W/5



Be aware that
 the AND operator cannot be used in queries
that include the NEAR operator.
For example, the following query is not valid:
(Germany NEAR/10 (monetary AND union))
Use the NEAR operator
 to find a word or phrase
within X number of words of a phrase.
The following queries are valid:
(Germany NEAR/10 "monetary union")
(Germany NEAR/10 (monetary NEAR/0 union))
more detailed explanation



Word variations
using base word +

- law
- lawabiding
- lawful
- lawyer





















more detailed explanation


At least

search word/phrase must appear
at least minimum number of times
in document

-  source documents that
include at least 5 instances
of the term merger







Create Search Strings with Boolean Connectors

Example Topic:

Provide an overview of current WA law for using a phone when driving


Search terms:

using        phone    driving


Date range:   current      Jurisdiction:  Western Australia


using phone driving





use OR using






"dangerous thing!"



Search String:

((conduct! OR distract! OR hold! OR inattent! OR use OR using) /15 (phone OR telephone OR text)) /25 (automobile OR car OR "dangerous thing!" OR driv! OR vehicle)

Enter your research question
Search strings

Search strings are created using search terms, their synonyms, and Boolean operators and connectors.

Example search string:

((balance OR distribut! OR separat!) /5 power!) AND commonwealth AND state

This search string will search for:

balance within 5 words of power - any order

distribute within 5 words of power - any order

distributed within 5 words of power - any order

distribution within 5 words of power - any order

separate within 5 words of power - any order

separated within 5 words of power - any order

separation within 5 words of power - any order

One or more of the above must appear in a document, as well as the word commonwealth, as well as the word state

Note: search words remain in the singular, as the databases will automatically search for singular and plural - even woman/women


Sample search string to source the meaning of slavery:

(character! OR defin! OR describ! OR expla! OR interpret! OR mean!) /25 slave!


Remove Formatting of Quotation Marks in Word

Databases do not like the formatting Word places to make quotation marks curly.

Remove the automatic formatting so you can create search strings and paste these straight into a database.

To do this:

  • Select File
  • Select Options
  • Select Proofing
  • Select AutoCorrect Options...
  • Select AutoFormat tab
  • Uncheck the box for 'Straight quotes' with 'smart quotes'
  • Select AutoFormat As You Type tab
  • Uncheck box for 'Straight quotes' with 'smart quotes' in the Replace as you type section
Select Proofing Select AutoFormat Select AutoFormat As You Type


Make Your Own Search String

Identify search words


IRAC method for analysis of legal problems:





Legal Problem Solving Guide

Step 1: Identify Parties by name and their role in proceedings
       *  plaintiff
       *  defendant

Step 2: Identify Particulars
       *  the injury/harm/loss
       *  the alleged wrong doings​

Step 3: Identify all possible Tortious Causes of Action (COA)

Step 4: Identify the Elements of the COA
       *  define COA
       *  cite relevant authorities
       *  this sentence should include Step 1 (identifying the parties), Step 2 (identifying the injuries and alleged wrongdoing), Step 3 (the possible cause of action) and Step 4 (identifying the elements). Note that a relevant legal authority for the law (that is, the elements of the cause of action) should also be cited
eg Patsy, the plaintiff, could sue Darren, the defendant, in negligence for his failure to stop at a red traffic light which caused property damage to her car and personal injury in the form of a broken arm: Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562.

Step 5: Identify the law governing the Elements of the COA
       *  cite relevant authorities which govern the elements of the cause of action the plaintiff is trying to establish

Step 6: Apply the law to the facts
       *  define/explain each element
       *  argue whether the legal rule/principle is satisfied by the facts in the scenario using relevant authorities
       *  every legal principle must be supported with the relevant/best authority (case law or a section of legislation)
          *  for contentious elements, outline both sides of the argument (e.g. the strengths and weakness of the party’s case)
          *  use case law as authority   OR  use case law for analogy

Step 7: Consider Defences
       *  identify defences arising on the facts
       *  apply the law to the facts for the relevant defences 

Step 8: Consider Remedies
       *  identify  remedies arising on the facts
       *  apply the law to the facts for the relevant remedies

Step 9: Conclusion
       *  give a brief conclusion regarding the likely outcome
       *  highlight the controversial or uncertain matters
       *  justify your conclusion

       *  use the language of the legislation
           example: s 5B of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (WA) uses the term ‘not insignificant’; use this term, don’t change it to ‘significant’

Reference Guides:


Author-date styles:

APA - Criminology, Education, Nursing, Psychology, Tourism

Chicago - Business & Governance,Transition Units, Multidisciplinary

MLA - English


Notational styles:

ACS - Chemistry

AGLC - Law

Footnote - Humanities, Social Sciences

IEEE - Computer Science, Electronics, Engineering, Information Technology

SBL - Theology

Vancouver - Biomedicine, Health Sciences

Style Manual

Word inserts a reference mark in the text and adds the footnote at the bottom of the page.

1.   Click where you want to add the footnote.

2.   Select References > Insert Footnote.

3.   Type the footnote text.

4.   To return to your place in your document, double-click the footnote mark.

Shortcut:   Ctrl+Alt+F to insert a footnote.

A more detailed explanation can be accessed from How to Add a Footnote to Microsoft Word


- include all sources consulted to inform you about a topic

Reference list

- include only those sources cited/referenced in footnotes 

AGLC requires that this list of resources is always entitled BIBLIOGRAPHY, regardless of the content.

Alphabetise List


Always refer to the Australian Guide to Legal Citation when completing your work.

Create a Hanging Indent in Word (for APA Referencing used for Criminology)

  1. In Word, highlight your references
  2. Right-mouse click and select Paragraph or click the small arrow in the Paragraph section of the Home tab
  3. In the Indentation section, click the Special drop down menu and select Hanging
  4. Click OK


Install EndNote and AGLC Referencing Style

To use AGLC with EndNote you will need to download and save 2 small files from the Install AGLC Referencing Style to EndNote link below:

  • Legal Reference Types e.g. Reported Cases, Legislation, Parliamentary Debates, Treaties, Books, Journal Articles etc
  • AGLC4 (UTS) style: this allows you to correctly format references and use them with Word
EndNote for Law Tips

Note: EndNote has a number of issues with AGLC. 
Make a Plain Text Copy as a final step and manually edit the Word document into Headings or Sections.

In every unit, you will be informed about the marking criteria for assessments.
Different academics will generate this in different ways.  

Research essays or written work are marked with consideration given to where the piece of work falls in the context of the grade descriptors.
The marker asks themselves - where does this piece of work sit between a P and an HD?
If you have not met the learning objective, you may be marked lower than a P. The Legal Practice Board expects you to have basic competencies. You cannot receive a pass mark if you do not have these.)
The marker then determines whether the work just scrapes into that grade band, whether it is a solid performance in that grade band, or whether it is almost, but not quite, the grade band above.

The University sets out descriptors for each grade. These are set out in the Unit Guide.
An HD grade recognises the work is of an exceptional standard. That means only a few papers will get it. (Otherwise it would not be exceptional.)
Obtaining such grades takes hard work and a fastidious approach to research and writing.
It needs to be excellent in every respect.
If there are spelling errors, or errors in citation, the mark will drop significantly.

It is virtually impossible to get a mark of 100% in a research essay.
Even a mark of 90% or above is incredibly rare and a mark of 80% is a significant achievement.
You can always improve the quality of expression.
There is always more research that could be done.
The marker has to leave room for the possibility that someone else will come along with an even better piece of writing.

A mark slightly below the percent off the next grade - eg 68%  - is a deliberate decision by your marker.
In other words, your work was assessed as being at the higher end of that grade, but not quite at the level of the next grade.
Students who ask 'Where did I lose marks?' have missed the point.
The feedback you receive - whether a marking matrix, comments, or general feedback to the class - should explain to you why you earned that grade.

Some assessments are not assessing your written work.
They might be of a style where you can score 'perfect' marks - such as a Library Research Test, a multi choice assessment, a citation quiz, a grammar quiz, or a research report.
If you follow the instructions to the letter, and understand the task that has been set, you can earn a very high mark.
Such assessments are usually not weighted very much because they can over-inflate the marks overall.
Because it is easy to do well in those types of tests, you cannot necessarily expect those marks to be a predictor of your future performance in the written assessment for the unit.
In other words, 'bank' the marks but don't get complacent!

This marking explanation also applies for exam marking.

- Kate Lewins 2020

Literature Review or Annotated Bibliography?


Literature Review

Annotated Bibliography

Purpose Provides an overview of significant sources of scholarly research on a topic, issue, or answers a question
Provides summary and explanation of key themes in the literature supported by relevant sources
Provides an ordered list of sources for research
Provides brief explanation for each source as to why it is credible and relevant to the topic or issue
Reader gains an understanding of available sources on a topic

Introduction explains topic
Body paragraphs provide understanding of topic
- cause/effect; comparison/contrast; problem/solution
Sources are integrated within paragraphs as evidence/examples
Sources may be mentioned more than once
Conclusion provides overview of topic as found in the literature

Introduction provides a brief and precise overview the research topic, types of sources included, process used to locate sources, and scope of bibliography
Each source is examined in a separate paragraph
* start with a correctly formatted full citation
* summary of key points or findings
* evaluation of source and its research (strengths and limitations)
* relevance of source to topic or issue
Paragraphs are arranged alphabetically, chronologically, or informationally 
No conclusion - just finish with the last examination of a source

  If you are conducting a literature review, then visit the Literature Review Research Guide.  

Annotated bibliography


An annotated bibliography provides a brief overview of the available research on a topic.
Each information source is accompanied by a citation that is followed by a brief descriptive paragraph.
An annotated bibliography provides  an assessment of the relevance and quality of the material on a topic. .

The description can:

  • summarise the research sources and/or assess the value of the source
  • reflect on the validity of this source material for your assignment


Format & Writing

  • be concise – mention only significant details in your summary
  • arrange in alphabetical order
  • write in a singe paragraph (usually about 100-300 words, depending on the format but check with your lecturer)
  • write in full sentences using academic writing style
  • use transition words (e.g. furthermore, moreover, however, therefore …)
  • write in a singe paragraph (usually about 100-300 words, depending on the format but check with your lecturer)


Do not:
  • repeat information (e.g. the title) that is already in your citation
  • cross reference

Use examples from other annotated bibliographies to guide and check your writing style

Writing order:
  1. Citation details (set out in the same style as a reference list item)
  2. A short statement explaining the main focus or purpose of the work
  3. A short summary of the theory, research findings or argument (e.g. intended audience, subjects covered, major arguments supported, research methods, conclusions reached, special features)
  4. Consideration of the usefulness and/or limitations of the text for your research (e.g. reliability of the text, credibility of the author, poor features, left-out content, weaknesses in argument)
  5.  An evaluative comment on the work that may take into account how this work will fit into your research on a topic (e.g. critical comment, critical reflection that describes the usefulness or relevance of the information for your writing task).

The bibliographical information may be 

  • descriptive (see points 1-3 below) or 
  • descriptive + evaluative (see points 1-5 below)
Annotated bibliography entries

When you compose your annotated bibliography, you will need to consider each part of the bibliography. 
Sentence starters can help to focus on these.

  The parts of a bibliography entry Examples


steps 1-3

1 The citation information should be in the same format as it would be in the reference list – leave a line below the citation

Example of an APA reference
Griffiths, A., & Milne, R. (Eds.). (2018). The psychology of criminal investigation: From theory to practice. Routledge.

Example of an AGLC reference
Griffiths, A., and R. Milne (eds), The Psychology of Criminal Investigation: From Theory to Practice (Routledge, 2018)

2 A short statement of the author’s viewpoint Example of sentence starters
*In this article, Griffiths reviews . . .
*This article examines . . .
*The authors describe . . .
*The author’s purpose is to challenge . . .
3 A short summary of the theory, research findings or argument Example of sentence starters
*The main ideas expressed are . . .
*Support for these claims is documented . . .
*Griffiths has conducted a thorough investigation of . . .
*The author’s research focuses on . . .

Descriptive and evaluative

steps 1-5


4 Comments on the usefulness and/or limitations of the text for your research Example of sentence starters
*The author provides a strong theoretical . . .
*The writing style considers a range of audiences . . .
*Theories are supported by well-known researchers in this field, such as . . .
*There is a lack of supporting evidence . . .
*The main limitation of the website . . .
5 An evaluative comment on the work, taking into account how this work will fit into your research on a topic Example of sentence starters
*This article is useful for the research topic . . .
* Because the information is up-to-date and from a reliable source . . .
* It is relevant to the thesis because . . .
* In particular, this article will assist . . .


Write Case Notes/Summaries

Case note components:

(a) Case citation details

(b) Facts (name of the case and its parties, what happened factually and procedurally, and the judgment)

(c) Issues (what is in dispute)

(d) Holding (the applied rule of law)

(e) Rationale (reasons for the holding)

More details on writing case summaries:

How To Write a Case Brief For Law School 

10 Tips on Making Case Summaries

Writing Case Notes






Case citation (choose the most authoritative report series)

Type of court and procedural history of the case (for example, previous courts the matter was heard in, previous decision and who appealed)



Select authorised or most authoritative version





Judgment date



Appeal/hearing details

At first instance


Who won


First appeal


Who appealed

Grounds for appeal

Appeal upheld/dismissed


Other relevant procedural history


Facts of case

What went wrong

Reason for dispute

Legal facts

Reason for court case (phrase as a yes/no question)

Case facts

What went wrong

Reason for dispute

Legal facts



State legal principle (decided by Court)

Legal principle/rule applied to legal facts

Legal significance/important facts

Did it change an established precedent

Legal principle

Principle applied

Legal significance



Appellant's arguments

Respondent's arguments



Identify each judge's decision

Reasons for decision/s

Note any dissents (divergence in judicial opinions)

Understand the holding(the answer to the question the court posed)

Judge 1's decision

Reason for decision

Judge 2's decision

Reason for decision


Reason for dissent



Analyse decision relevant to existing law (often referred to within the judgement itself)

How does case enhance understanding of existing law

Background/discussion of prior law - if the decision departed from previous cases, was this appropriate (changes to policy, societal values, political climate, bias)

Is the decision:

Contradictory to prior decisions



Refer to:

Past cases

International/interstate law

Extrinsic materials eg Second Reading Speeches

Decision analysis

Enhanced understanding

Legal reasoning


Do you agree with the majority or dissent

Would you agree/disagree – but for different reasons than those of the judges

Suggest changes to existing law

Explain why your approach is more appropriate or achieves greater justice



TO: [reader] (e.g., instructing lawyer, client, judge) FROM: [your full name]
DATE: [date of submission]
FILE: [file number; client/matter]
SUBJECT: [topic] (describe precisely)

Table of Contents

Background / Purpose






Discussion / Analysis

Reference List




The Library has Research Guides with detailed instructions to assist with writing a literature review and thesis:

Literature Review - Research Guide

  • Planning Your Review
  • Searching the Literature
  • Managing Your Results
  • Critical Reading and Analysis
  • Writing Your Review

Theses - Research Guide

  • Sourcing Theses - Murdoch, Australian, International
  • Writing a Thesis
  • Copyright Advice
  • Submitting a Thesis

How to Source
Legislation and
Extrinsic Materials

How to Source
Case Law and
Related Materials

How to Source
Tertiary and
Secondary Materials
- Articles, Commentary, Definitions

Acts / Statutes
Definitions in Acts
Delegated Legislation
Explanatory Memoranda
Government Gazettes
Law Reform Commission
Parliamentary Committees
Second Reading Speech
WA State Agreements
Famous Cases
Appealed Cases
Authorised Court Reporting Series
Cases Considering Acts
Cases Considering Cases
Cases Considered in Journal Articles
Similar Cases
Newspaper Articles
Media Statements
Peer Reviewed
Journal Articles:
  • By citation
  • By title
  • Considering an Act
  • Considering a Case

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